View Full Version : At sea in the Mediterranean:

Doc Vernon
30th October 2017, 08:22 AM

Sat Oct 21 at sea in the Mediterranean: A ship named Chusan: Coincidentally, I came across three separate guests who remember this P&O liner, which sailed from 1950 until 1973. One sailed on it as a child and dubbed it "the most wonderful ship – with the most wonderful atmosphere & friendliness". Another couple met onboard – he was the young doctor, she was the nurse. And a third recalled spending 120 days onboard – during a line voyage that circled the globe.

Down below! The chief engineer is a ship enthusiast & he kindly invites me to see the "under world" of this great ship – tunnels, steel stairwells, engines, motors & a necessity: ear plugs. Quite fascinating! And we passed thru provisioning – passing the likes of crates of melons & potatoes & frozen fish. Yes, the nerve center!

Sun Oct 22 Gibraltar: Often onboard, you can see people at close, almost telescopic, range. Myself, I enjoy watching – just watching if discreetly. This trip, I run into two intriguing old dears, both English, called Beryl and – get ready – Aurora. They come straight out of a play, perhaps of the 1930s, in characterizations that Maggie Smith would much enjoy playing. They are, of course, maiden ladies --- with ringlet, silvery hair, those aged, discolored single strands of pearls and the almost inevitably dated dresses in those floral prints. They never attend the nightly shows (“dreadfully repetitious” they tell me), but they wear large, squashed roses a bit crushed on floor-length silk dresses during the formal evenings onboard. Their accessories are noticeable as well --- low, peep-toe, sling-back shoes (in cracked gold leatherette) bought, perhaps, as something “new & different” back in the 1950s and also the longer pearls, drooped in two & three tiers to the waist, that once probably belonged to their mothers or perhaps a maiden great aunt. One carries a tattered stole in a kind of Belgian lace. Their evening bags are battered silver silk, clutched tightly if only containing, I am guessing, a cabin key card, a fringed hankie & perhaps a lipstick in, I'm guessing and say, a shade of faded rose. In ways, they too are faded – aged beauties, unmistakably English – their skin still a translucent white and with rouged cheeks & with just a dash of face powder. They themselves are living, breathing mementoes of a bygone era, even the old Empire, a vanished world and they'd certainly drop into the deepest of curtsies to the Queen. Theirs is an old, long-ago England. By day, they travel out & about – but always, always back aboard for lunch, then their 2 o’clock nap followed by a pot of tea in their stateroom. They sit, quite upright, their wide-brimmed straw hats in place, on the shuttle buses to & from ports of call. Fresh white hankies, the day ones, are kept in hand for perspiration -- those slightest of dabs to the face. They never make purchases, of course, in fact probably barely spend a penny other than the steep fare (a slight smile from them!) for a Cunard cruise. They are pleasant, long-ago friends from school days and, of course, one of the two is the far stronger personality. The taller one chats; the other is timid & shy & grinningly stays off to the side. Together, they have an ethereal air, not quite of this world, coupled with a dab of detachment yet slightly bewildered amusement at the same time --- and, of course, they never presume to ask a direct question, assume friendship, even suggest real friendliness. They are, as it seems, quite willing to move on, without the slightest hint of resumption, re-acquaintance, even the vaguest familiarity of us being together on the same boat the same time. Almost expectedly, they happily dine alone --- whispered chats over a few well selected courses & an inexpensive but sufficient bottle of wine carefully doled out between them and then re-used for two & three nights to follow --- at a discreet table for two. As they arrive, passing me with the faintest of nods, the taller one is firmly in the lead. They leave only a lingering scent of what is perhaps lavender.

Mon Oct 23 at sea: More memories: Dave worked for Cunard for six years, beginning in 1962. "I was a junior and carved & sliced the meats down in the galleys of the old Queen Mary," he recalled. "We were on the run to New York from Southampton & Cherbourg. I had been with Union-Castle, but Cunard was better, certainly special. But it was hard work, long hours and we were 16 to a cabin. It was down a long corridor to the toilets & long waits in the early morning for a shower. In 1962, I earned $90 a month. We had some very rich & very important passengers and I was later promoted to the first class restaurant. In immaculate white uniform, I ran a silver trolley & carved the beef and deboned the fish alongside the tables. You had to be skilled, but also very polite and mannered. You were not expected to be friendly, but quietly efficient. I loved going to New York in those days – and remember the Market Diner, the Anchor Bar and the British Seamen's Club near Pier 90. We'd have overnights – and we'd sometimes walk over to Broadway, buy a British newspaper in a shop in Times Square and sometimes see a show at Radio City. I was later transferred to the Queen Elizabeth, but the old Lizzie did not have the same atmosphere, working spirit, even charm of the Mary. Cunard was always moving staff & crew from the Queen Mary over to the Elizabeth to try to improve the mood and heighten the spirit, but it never worked. I was on the Mary on her final cruise [October 1967], out from Southampton and around South America to Los Angeles. It was her final voyage – and we were flown home afterward. A year later, as the Lizzie was retired, I was made redundant – and after 6 years at Cunard, I was given $250 redundancy pay, a handshake and sent on my way. But I was soon recalled, went up to Scotland and joined the brand new QE2. But there were tremendous problems with the new ship – and these included staffing. Sometimes we thought that ship would never actually enter service. We finally sailed to New York, four months late and still with shipyard crews onboard adding finishing touches. I stayed with the QE2 for two years, remember Commodore Bill Warwick & well recall him cheering us on as we played football in Barbados during the first Christmas Caribbean cruise."

Tue Oct 24 at sea: Last day, 6 talks done & a delightful trip in all ways.

Those little encounters: Met blonde, 80-ish Glenda (from just outside London) in the corridor. She told me she'd worked in the Sixties for the Union-Castle Line & together we recalled some of that Company's well-known ships including the flagship Windsor Castle. She was a junior purser. In our chatter, I'd mentioned a long-ago friend, who also worked, in the '60s as well, on Union-Castle, and asked if she'd ever come across him. "Come across him," she grinned. "We had a blazing affair that lasted three years!"

Another blonde, quite glamorous & bejeweled & who worked in the shipping business but in Greece, all but rushed over to me (on a Gibraltar street) and quickly said: "Before I ask how you are, I must ask: Have you had your pills today?"

Another spirited, but silver-haired vixen tells me: "These days, I always cruise over Christmas-New Year. I have 4 kids, all in their fifties. But they'd stop by on Christmas Day but only for an hour or so – just to see if I was still alive! So, I'm cruising now – and spending their inheritance."

And finally, a spirited lady from Blackpool & wearing a virtual shop-load of bracelets, comes on Cunard mostly for the evening dancing. She cheerfully reported, "I just love dancing. My first 4 husbands didn't dance. Now, this is Robin, my 5th husband, and he's just terrific on the dance floor. I'm finally complete – and finally a very happy lady!"

Wed Oct 25 Southampton (England)-London-Newark: Goodbye Queen Elizabeth, up to Heathrow, a quick trans-ocean flight & then home sweet home!

PS: We left Heathrow in gorgeous autumn light ... then suddenly, I caught sight of Windsor Castle bathed in equally glorious, late afternoon, honey-colored sunshine. Suddenly, I saw a gloved, possibly royal hand waving from a turret window. Could it have been ... and she might have been say​ing: "Safe flight, Bill ... but I do command you to come again soon!"

photo: Linked to Dave's wonderful memories of Cunard at NY in the Sixties: Glory days along Luxury Liner Row – the Bremen and the United States together caught in port on a summer afternoon in 1965.

30th October 2017, 08:32 AM
##vernon that writing is so descriptive .......a full honours degree for such precis....almost as if i met the two old dears ....regards cappy

happy daze john in oz
31st October 2017, 05:10 AM
##vernon that writing is so descriptive .......a full honours degree for such precis....almost as if i met the two old dears ....regards cappy

Was one of the Mary by any chance?