A Wave of Coincidence
In my Daily Paradox of 05Apr23 (A Little Ocean Wave) I told how one of our Creative Directors, Harmer Brown, and I had been given the chance to take RMS Queen Mary’s penultimate crossing of the Atlantic to make a series of presentations in the States. The story picks up as Harmer and I pace up and down on the beautiful liner’s deck the afternoon before departure. The sun was shining and the breeze off the Solent rippled through my hair and across Harmer’s bald pate. We stepped out healthily. A journey like this was a rare event. We both appreciated how fortunate we were.
Harmer was in one of his rare moods of seriousness. Although he reported to me he was twelve years older and regarded himself as a guardian angel against my impulsive and sometimes explosive nature. Puffing away on his always present Gauloises cigarette, he suggested that, as the purpose of our voyage was rest and recuperation, we might consider giving alcohol a miss and having a quiet and restful crossing. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Some ten minutes later an announcement was made over the ship’s Tannoy that the Verandah Grill Bar was now open. Without a word or a moment’s hesitation we both turned, headed straight to the saloon and ordered two large gin and tonics. By way of explanation I should perhaps say that in the 1960s advertising was one of the businesses notoriously given to alcohol addiction. ‘Pressure of creating good ads’ was usually the excuse. Boozy environment described the situation more honestly.
I had been warned not to get trapped on the Captain’s table for meals. Fun for an evening, it was inhabited by rather rich and boring people anxious to be seen keeping their status well embellished. So, having checked the passenger list, I had made a special plea that for all but one evening Harmer and I should be seated on tables with more lively and interesting company. The first evening was one for which passengers did not wear dinner jackets or the latest dress from Paris. We were invited to a private party in the Ship’s Victualler’s Quarters.
This was a senior officer responsible for food, drink and catering – a position many considered only one down from the Captain himself. Harmer and I, having abandoned our alcohol abstinence pledge, arrived punctually at 8.30. Other guests started arriving too. They were an interesting lot. They had also asked for something more lively than the boss’s table. Several were widows whose husbands’ parting acts of love were hefty donations towards travel and exploration. At this point three elegant ladies appeared looking, considering the occasion, rather less cheerful than one might have expected. They were obviously sisters.
The kindly officer sat them at different points around the table, putting the tallest and youngest next to me. All three were around forty. I was thirty-five at the time. Wine was poured and food was consumed. Initial conversations were of the usual exploratory, somewhat desultory sort – who, what and where from. Mary, the sister sitting next to me, told me the sad event that had the three girls travelling on their own.
Their parents were getting on in age and had taken them round Europe, without husbands and children, as a farewell trip to a much loved family. It had been a great success. For three weeks they had relived the best of their childhood days, now mature enough to enjoy what was good and forget what was awful. The Queen Mary crossing was to be the highlight of their excursion. But on arrival at Southampton it had emerged that the father’s passport was too nearly out of date to allow him access to the United States until a new one could be issued. So the girls had waved their parents a sad goodbye at the quayside. Hence their less than spectacular enthusiasm. I enquired where Mary lived in America.
“Rhode Island,” she replied.
“Oh,” I said, “I only know one person from Rhode Island. She is Emily (nee) Bellows, the wife of my very young step-uncle.”
“I had lunch with her yesterday in the Savoy Grill,” answered Mary, “she is one of my oldest friends”. Our friendship for the voyage was cemented.
Mary was a wonderful dancer.
12 April 2023