Wednesday, 14 November 2007

MY STORY Chapter 8 - Life on the Ocean - Pt. 4 - Ports of Call

What’s left to relate about my time at sea – some highlights of ports of call I guess. Linden, New Jersey was a particularly good port to visit as it is so close to New York City. I can still remember the excitement of waiting, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, for the pilot to come on board and take us in. Also the enormously thick New York broadsheet newspapers brought onto the ship by the pilot. We visited this port every month and it was always scheduled that we would arrive on Friday as the docks closed so that we would be berthed all weekend, waiting for the unloading of the ship’s cargo to begin on Monday. This always gave us a long weekend ashore. This was particularly beneficial to Alan and me because the second mate had an Aunt and Uncle living in Bronxville, New York State. They had emigrated from Scotland when they were young and as soon as they heard that the Chief had his wife on board, they immediately offered us hospitality in their home for every visit. One would have to experience the basic living conditions on board the ship to appreciate what this meant to me.

As soon as we arrived at the house a beautiful bathroom was put at our disposal complete with stacks of large fluffy white towels, bath essences and lots of hot water. We certainly took our time soaking in this luxury. The food was good too, and the company. Before taking advantage of this wonderful hospitality we would spend time in New York City. A company agent would collect us from the ship in a limousine and we would be given complimentary tickets to Broadway shows. One I remember particularly was ‘My Fair Lady’ with Rex Harrison. So, having spent the day wandering around Macy’s, taking in the sights, and seeing a show, we would head out on a train to Bronxville, just south of White Plains.

On one visit to New York there was so much security and we soon found out that a ship carrying Kruchev, the Russian President, was berthed not too far from us. Another interesting visit, we took in a Broadway show at the end of our visit which meant we needed to find our own way back to the ship late at night. We trawled around Grand Central Station but were unable to get a train near enough to where we wanted to go. As it was so late at night, or possibly early morning, we decided to look for a taxi to get us back. We found one, settled in the back only later to find that the driver refused to cross the state border into New Jersey. He dropped us at a deserted bus station in the early hours of the morning. Neither Alan nor I have any recollection of how we got back to the ship. Isn’t memory strange how it leaves blanks at times. It’s probably worth mentioning our experience in shops in the town of Linden. We were quite a novelty with some people as they asked us things like, “Do you have washing machines in England, Do you have strawberries, is that right you have to be off the streets by 10 pm?” Did they think we had come from another planet!

I don’t overall have good memories of taxi rides in NYC. Many years later in 1988 while staying at the Mayfair Regent (it no longer exists), the concierge hailed me a cab to take me to Newark airport for a flight back to the UK. As I was travelling alone he negotiated a fare with the driver. I think it was $35. When I got to the drop off point at the airport the driver refused to open the boot/trunk to retrieve my luggage until I had paid him double this amount saying I had to pay his fare back to NYC. What could I do, a middle aged woman travelling alone and it was dark.

My first visit to New Orleans was exciting. The long 120 mile steam up the Mississippi River with the sea plane gas stations, coupled with scenes of swamps along the way was particularly interesting. Also the Mississippi river boats. I will always remember my first experience of being very cold in air conditioned shops and the contrast of the steamy hot air outside. It was here that I also experienced my first watermelon. When just one slice arrived, it was so large I hardly knew what to do with it. Alan just laughed his head off when he saw the expression on my face. Alan had been to New Orleans many times before so he enjoyed showing me around the French quarters. He plays the trumpet and on one previous visit he had the pleasure of sitting in with a Jazz band in one of the many Jazz clubs. He is an avid Jazz fan, owning every record that Lois Armstrong had made, even his first one so you can imagine what this meant to him. The downside was that I could not understand the separate drinking taps for whites and blacks and equally the separate toilets and restrooms. This was 1960.

Lake Charles, Louisiana was the port where I was almost detained on board. On my first visit when being asked by immigration if I had ever had contact with the Communist party, not realising how serious this was, I joked and said “Yes, I used to be a member of the party”. A deathly silence all round was broken by the immigration officer telling me he would have me detained on board. He eventually relented after I had received a lecture on how serious this was and showed that I was truly sorry and realised how naive I had been. This was the place we were stopped by the Police when out walking. They wanted to know where we were going and why we were walking. Once we explained we were walking and looking for a shop, they took us in their police car, saying it was far too hot to walk.

We became quite used to the culture in Mexico as we visited every month. We would berth in Coatzacoalcos or Minatitlan on the Gulf of Campeche. The cargo we collected in Mexico was powdered sulphur. It was a truly unpleasant cargo to be carrying. When it was being loaded, in no time at all, the whole ship would be coated in it and our eyes would be sore and streaming. Even face washing did not help very much as the powder would be washed into our eyes. The smell wasn’t nice either. However we would walk into town and be amazed at the contrast of wealth and poverty in such proximity to each other. Smart homes right next to corrugated iron shacks. The opposite side of the river was just villages of straw and mud huts..

Sunday afternoon in the town square we observed the ritual of promenading. All the young men walking around the square in one direction, and all the young ladies in the opposite direction, smiling and giggling and eyeing each other up. Very sweet. Once when visiting the office of the shipping agent I needed to use the loo/bathroom. This was situated in a cupboard with a tiny three foot high door right next to one of the occupied desks. Very embarrassing. There was a silver mine not too far away and the owner visited the ship bringing with him a gift for me, a silver and moonstone bracelet, the silver having been mined and beaten right there.

Coupled with the whole chapter on our time berthed in Nova Scotia, these are some of the highlights of the ports visited on this voyage. When we eventually sailed back across the Atlantic, much further south I might add, the ocean was like a millpond, so calm it seemed we were just on a lake. Such a blessing and relief after our voyage over.

It only remains to recall our stops over in Southern Ireland on the way home. Before berthing in Cork we encountered some sudden very severe storms and had to stay outside the harbour for a day until it was safe to make our way in. While berthed in Cork we got to visit the Blarney stone and yes we did do what everyone else did and kissed it, I have no idea why. While berthed in Dublin it was funny to see some of the locals coming out with buckets and shovels to help themselves to the coal that had been loaded on the quayside for the ships boilers. Before leaving for home we armed ourselves with the local bounty, sheepskin lined coats and mittens and Aran sweaters, Southern Ireland being renowned for these.

All that remains to be said is that it was such a wonderful feeling to be on the home stretch as we sailed away from Ireland and north through the Western Isles of Scotland before eventually berthing and disembarking on the North East coast of England. For me that was the end but even though Alan had decided to leave the sea for good he had to stay on the ship a little while longer until a new Chief Engineer was found. I had experienced a wonderful and at times traumatic adventure and was now desiring some stability in my life. Did I find it? All will be revealed as I continue with this story.

The dear couple who gave us such hospitality

The silver and moonstone bracelet

Sorry I did not clean it for the photo!

Mexican suberbs

In the garden at Bronxville


Vee said...

Oh that nasty taxi driver!

Your excellent memory raises a question, Barbara. Did you keep a journal or diary of your time on ship?

This really does sound like a book or movie to me. ;> Let's see, who can we get to play your part? I'm thinking Cate Blanchett perhaps; although, you're even prettier. Not sure who would be good to play Alan's role...any ideas? :)

Vee said...

Great suggestions! (Except for the part about the actors being among the dearly departed.) I'd definitely pay to see the movie.

You can't imagine how much I envy someone who has a mind for details.

Tina said...

Hi Barbara,
Another amazing story! I need to also say that you have a great memory. I love all the pictures, and there is one in particular on the previous post about your story, the one of you sun bathing on the boat, that is just so wonderful and glamourous! :)
Hope you are having a great week.
Take care. x

Jeanne said...

You have led an exciting and enchanted life.
I love to hear your stories.
Please share many more.
I love you
Jeanne ^j^

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading about another part of your exciting life.
Your pictures were lovely.

Midlife Cycler said...

So interesting. It is like reading a book.Thanks for sharing that with us.
I love the pictures too.

Willow said...

What a great shot of you and Alan sitting on the bench. Are you wearing the bracelet?
I can see Cat Blanchett playing you in the movie. I was thinking of Fred Astaire (if we could make him 25 again!) but then he'd always be dancing around on the deck and annoying the sailors. How about Michael Kitchen's (Foyle's) assistant (don't know his name) in Foyle's War?

Paula said...

I agree with the other comments, you do have a great memory and a mind for detail. Your life would be an interesting movie. Yes, Cate Blanchett for you and maybe Harrison Ford for Alan!

Cape Cod Washashore said...

2007 and the taxi service in NYC is probably not that much better! (My hubby makes us walk... for miles... when we go to NYC. If necessary we take the subway which I don't like either.)

Betty said...


Gosh, what a life you've led. Alan has really carried you places!

Your postings are so educational...I'm learning so much.

By the way, I dearly love red meated watermelon.....better than the we have seedless....Betty

Susie said...

I'm amazed at the details you recall and also wonder if you kept a diary of those years.
Your recollection of visits to the south in that time was quite enlightening.
I'm enjoying each segment.

Mary said...

Barbara - I'm so enjoying your story - wish my memory was as good! Seeing that photo of the old Queen Mary brought back memories though - I crossed the pond on her in 1964 - my first trip home to England just prior to her beimg taken out of service. Fare was just $300.00 round trip - returning on the Holland America Line 'Statendam' which was brand new and lovely! Now I'd love to do the Atlantic crossing on the new Queen Mary 2.

Linda said...

I'm glad, except for the taxi drivers, that you enjoyed America. You got to see alot.

La Tea Dah said...

I am enjoying your story so very much. Thank you so much for posting it for us to enjoy.


Susan said...

You really got to enjoy a lot of neat, exciting adventures in the various ports. How exciting for the young girl and wife !!

Love the silver bracelet and all the photos.

Beach Girl said...

I love reading about your adventures! And I feel as though I'm right there with you. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. Please keep sharing.


TO BECOME said...

My, my such excitement. You have had such great adventures. Thanks so much for sharing them with me.

a woman who is said...

I have been putting off reading you life story because I knew once I started reading it; I would want the rest of the story! I just read all 8 chapters tonight and found it fascinating. What an interesting life you have led. Those pictures of you on ship, sunbathing and all, you looked like a movie star. What a handsome couple you and Alan made. And what a leap of faith you took. This is novel kind of material. Keep it coming now, I am hooked!

Teresa said...

This story is not only very interesting, it is an education. I am learning things I would probably never learn otherwise. Did you journal during these days? Your memory is really good, even with a blank from that early morning horror at the desolate bus station. You were most likely very tired and that could have affected your memory of that time.

It upsets me how you were treated by greedy, dodgy taxi drivers and helicopter pilots. It is horrible how the south treated black people. Most unfortunately, there are still those today that feel they are inferior. I read as much about abolitionists when in secondary school. I think I figured if slavery every came back that I would be ready to help blacks get free. The ideals of a school girl.

Well, it looks like a new chapter of your life is going to start. I am eager to get on.

Hope said...

Thank you so much for sharing your life story. I am reading it with intense interest.