Monday, February 7, 2011


Above is an official complaint I made to P&O Ferries following a return trip from Hull to Zeebrugge. I just found myself continually wound up by the hypocrisy both onboard and in Belgium where they are quite happy to take smoker money but then treat them like shit.

The complaint to P&O, just in case you can't read my scrawl, explains why I was so angry (again) :

1) Perfume shop offensive. Needs to be sealed for public health. It makes food in nearby bars taste foul.

2) People who smoke are not treated equally. You must find space somewhere inside or close your tobacco shop. You take their money - and they (mostly) take your boat as tobacco tourists. If you are anti-smoking, then you have no business selling tobacco. I am insulted and offended.

That was about all I had room to say except for a bit at the top where I refuted the receptionist's claim that smoking was banned because of fire risks. I said people had smoked aboard for years and there were no fires as indeed was evidenced by my last trip with P&O some years ago when smoking was permitted in designated areas.

I felt it was far more risky to send smokers out on gale blown, wet slippery decks on a boat in the middle of the ocean when some are drunk and quite incapable and may slip overboard. I suppose P&O wouldn't mind as long as it had their money for tobacco and alcohol first.

The perfume shop really did get me. It stunk. The sweet sickly spell made my stomach churn and it took my breath away the first time I walked past it. I had to sit down to recover from the passive poison. Thereafter I was prepared with a tissue over my mouth and nose to avoid it which was impossible because you had to walk past it to get to the end of the ship and outside.

The cabin two berth bunk was comfortable and basic with off-white yellowed walls that looked like they hadn't been given a coat of paint for years. There was also what looked like red wine drip stains running down the wall in a couple of places.

So when I saw the notice about how "Any evidence of smoking will result in a £50 penalty to restore the cabin" I was enraged. Especially after walking through the entertainment area, where people sat and drank copious amounts of alcohol sold by P&O, where I almost trod in a pile of vomit. There was not one sign that such action would result in a cleaning fine although much cleaning work undoubtedly had to be done to "restore"the carpet there.

Seasickness is one thing - alcohol induced vomit quite another. The hypocrisy of P&O astounded me. I would ask that if any Resistance smoker does take this same trip in future that they complain in similar terms. After all, the only reason we are socially excluded is because of opposition complaints made over several years. We need to let these commercial enterprises - especially those that rely on tobacco tourism - that their behaviour towards us is unacceptable.

Once off the transfer bus from Zebrugge to Bruges we were immediately met by a woman handing out flyers advertising a tobacco shop. My brand - Cutter's Choice - cost £3.80 a 50g pack. We bought 3kg which I expect to last me and my other half six months. Almost all of the tobacco flew out of the P&O tobacco shop within half an hour of it opening so we had no chance of buying aboard. It's the same price as in Bruges but they did not restock for the return trip. I had some Euros left and bought one pack of 10x50g of Drum. Not my favourite but handy if we can't get away to buy again next August. September might be cheaper to travel.

Judging by the stuffed huge suitcases - far too big for one overnight stay - and the many carrier bags that people lugged onboard, we probably bought less than everyone else. Yes, tobacco tourism is big business in Belgium.

If you like pubs the place is perfect. You can sit and drink Belgium beers and smoke inside. Smoking and non-smoking pubs existed and we all had choice. As there are several hours to spend walking around, a sit down and drink is a must. I had a cherry beer and it was lovely. My other half had a blonde beer which he didn't rate as much. Neither of us drink much alcohol and neither of us wanted to risk being seasick so a half glass and a taste was enough.

We walked mostly around in circles in Bruges. It's a beautiful city but the buildings get boring when each direction you go seems to bring you back around to where you started in the main market square. We wanted to visit the chocolate factory and the brewery but we didn't find them and couldn't work it out on the map. A lady we spoke to as we waited for the bus back to Zeebrugge told us her experience was the same. There were no English signs and the language is hard to get your head around.

When we got hungry we looked for a smoking place to eat but there were none. I don't mind No Smoking signs but I get insulted when they go that extra mile to be insulting such as "No Smoking. We serve smoke Free Food". I guess that rules out smoked ham, bacon, cheese, or anything else. We walked on.

Eventually we came to a cafe with no sign. Inside people sat with cups of coffee and ashtrays as they smoked and read in an entirely civilised manner. We sat and ordered and hit a problem. It seems the law says that we could sit there and drink but if we wanted a slice of toast with our cup of tea we had to move into the sealed non-smoking section. The waiter said that there was a part covered smoking and eating area behind, but we couldn't find it.

I won't spend my money in places that deny me choice so I decided not to eat. I'd had breakfast and figured I'd last until I got back to the boat. My other half was ravenous so we just picked any old place - the next one we passed.

As soon I entered I wanted to vomit because of the smell of fish. I'd feel the same if there was a strong onion smell. It's just something that gets me personally. It sticks in my throat and my nose and is hard to shift. I know the law states that we must like all smells except for tobacco. I don't and I don't understand why I can't choose to be around the smell I love so much if there are other people who enjoy it as much as me.

I'm afraid the hypocrisy of the Belgians means I won't be going back and I won't use P&O again until they readdress the balance between their smoking and non-smoking passengers. The smokers far out numbered the non-smokers who were pretty much going outside onto the deck with their smoker friends.

Whether I get a response to my complaint from P&O remains to be seen. My gut feeling is that as a smoker I simply don't matter. They've taken my money and probably wish that I'd just fuck off ... until next time but I'll probably do Holland by air. It's a place where there is respect for the smoker's custom.