We joined ‘TheBlack Prince’ At Liverpool on Saturday – Chris drove us, the return journey would be his first time solo on the motorway. Many others came by bus – loads of horror stories of journey length. One couple (mother and daughter) were on a bus 12 hours – they were the first people on – then picking up at various circuitous places en route from Newcastle to Liverpool. Staff members or crew got us on board – taking photocards, giving us handwashes, generally smiling and wishing us a nice trip. We would see them again in various different guises, like a travelling circus in which the high-wire artist is also the pop-corn salesman.
I partook of a ‘stella’ as we passed the dunes around Southport. These were places we frequented during our days in Liverpo√ol. Fist fighting with ‘kid’ Lascelles (son of a medical family of Waterloo RFC). Stuck in the sand in AJT’s mini. We’d gone for a skinny dip and a few brandies. It all went wrong. Thompson finished up at a party. We fell asleep fitfully, waiting for a tow.
We took in the resident band (The Black Prince Orchestra) early evening, with a female lead singer – Malou. Phillipinos. They played the notes, the tune was recognisable but where was the music? The bloke on keyboards was a gorilla. Malou is excellent.
It was a geriatric cruise, plus fatties of various ages. Sticks and limps and the full range of getting bent double. After dinner we took a walk on deck and then strolled back to our cabin. An elderly woman in her nightie stood in the doorway of her cabin, ‘Have you seen my sister? She’s got the tickets.’ The answer was ‘No’. What else do you say and do when you touch someone else’s tragedy?
We thought we’d got our cabin in some sort of order bπefore we took our first turn on deck. When we returned everything had moved – our cabin stewardess had put things in her order. I pressed a button trying to turn on the lights and she arrived wondering what we wanted. Later she delivered a bowl of fruit. ‘We didn’t order these.’ Sheila goes and checks with reception, tight or what. You get them free said the receptionist because you’ve a superior cabin. Ok, I’ll have a bit of that.
The stewardess is one thing, Sheila is entirely another. I cannot find my clothes. We’ve got so much. There’s no plan – not even colour coded. We’ve brought too much.
The only anxiety that first day was our dinner companions. Who would they be? Would they be ok? The first people we met were in their 70’s. Deaf Ron had switched off and looked ill. His wife was very short and fat – Jaqueline. We would discover during the cruise that chocolate was her favourite food. She’d been a good sprinter as a youth (short aÓnd fast). She’d was loyal to Ron (‘Sir’), but had her holidays, some without him – New Zealand with family every other year. She helped run a charity in Greenich, a museum of ‘The Fan’.
Life-boat drill. This was a shambles – if ever we would need it, it wasn’t going to work.
The early morning call. Happy campers style, breezy and loud, no music thankfully. Every morning so no need of an alarm.
Breakfast in the lido restaurant. Help yourself. To coffee in my case. Different people every day with varied success. Today an ex-army lady who tells me I’m grumpy. I agree, but I’ve taken a gout pill. She’s not swayed.
A fishing village that was actually a commutor town for Belfast. A long bus ride to ‘Giant’s Causeway’ which was worth it. Basalt beauty at the other end of ‘Fingal’s Cave’ (Staffa). We get our first view of the other cruisers. Who are quiet, the henpecked, the stroppy, the moaners.
Ham or chicken salad for lunch near Portrush golf course. A smiley dumpy woman and her quieÎt dumpy husband who kept his eyes on the table. He began to look up after a glass of white wine.
Afternoon at Bushmills distillery. Dumpy lady takes my photo. Unionist and English flags are everywhere. Soon to be the marching season.
You can take a guided taxi ride around the Unionist art on gable ends.
Our other dinner companions were Paul and his wife whose name escapes me (Win or Wyn). Paul is a large Indian of 62, educated at public school where his mother was head. Then presumably to England (they came across here when he was 8 after his father died), a successful career in business and retirement as Chancellor of Birmingham University, chairman of the local PCT and probably a few other things I didn’t catch. His wife was from Newcastle and that was possibly where they met. Paul’s bearing as an important person is intimidating to start with.
The evening concert included ‘Fiddler Adam’, who was seven foot tall and should have played for Munster, and Bob Curtis, a stand-up comic obn a retirement plan from the clubs.
Breakfast with a pair of caravanners.
Another fishing village. Sheila took her first guiness in a town square hotel bar. A man at the next table said, ‘You’ll be off the boat then?’ We’d been lost earlier and wandered along narrow streets of very tasteful housing, clearly not cheap. ‘Why would this be?’ we enquired. ‘Mackerel millionnaires, plus two lottery winners,’ was the reply.
The local radio station was doing a roadshow in the square.
Evening – Captain’s cocktail party. Fred Olson cruise liner so the skipper was Scandinavian, Norwegian maybe, or Swedish. I christen him Captain Fred (actually Olav Sovdsnes). The world is his home, so he told us. I wonder who is driving the boat as all his officers are at the party. Even the doctor, who has a thin heavily laquered or oiled handlebar moustache.
Like‰ the band, most of the officers are Phillipino. The chef is french – Mathieu Loos.
The Neptune Show Lounge – entertainment from ‘The Black Prince Theatre Company’. Rogers and Hammerstein. Three girls and two men who are a little on the camp side.
The entertainments officer, who also does the happy camper morning call, begins a running gag about lonely croupiers waiting for us to have flutter up in one of the lounges. The other, somewhat grisly, offering is the opportunity to have a late night snack or an additional full meal. We learn some people go for fish and chips. Add this to a full breakfast, biscuits and pastries at coffee time, all you can eat at lunch, afternoon biscuit and pastry reprise and then the evening 3 to 4 coÔurse meal, somehow supper seems a little over the top.
After the show, the band appear with Malou. Most people are already in the process of standing up and walking out.
We begin a routine of going up to the Aquitaine lounge for a last drink. Angelito Reyes plays the piano ‘relaxing melodies for the night owls’. His eyes never leave the music score, sat forward on his piano stool, furrowed brow. He is not relaxed and neither are the sounds. We are though.
Breakfast with a deaf mute.
We discover the gym. Machines. Victor is the fitness instructor – a middle european, who is not going to get a lot of takers for his classes (pilates, legs bums and tums workout, fitball, dyna band) from the geriatrics.
Cleggan is a small village in Connemara to catch the bus to the nearest town.
The cruise itself is billed as a garden tour so many of the coach trips are geared to country houses and their gardens.
We’re moored in the bay and get the tender (a launch sized boat), but not the coach. Cleggan has 4 pubs and a fish and chip shop. We have guiness, smoked salmon and soda bread. People, back from the trip, are queuing to catch the tender back to the boat for lunch.
We walk around. No poverty here. Supposedly my great grandmother came from here – Mary Ann Malone. I set an objective to find out. We stop a man to ask him where the local beach might be. ‘You’ll be off the boat. Where are you from?’ He tells us of his time building the bypasses around Chesterfield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. The beach is a mile up the road. Deserted lovely white sand with a view of the boat. Time for a read.
There’s quite a swell on the way back. Some of the stouter parties and those who limp a bit need help from the staff to negotiate the jump to thez boat. We hear the afternoon bus trip was very long and not maybe not worth it. Some people didn’t risk the jump in the first place. Its a day for the moaners.
Paul tells us of his commitment to education as the only way out of the poverty cycle. He doesn’t drink because of medication for rheumatoid. His wife does red wine.
A young attractive girl sits alone. During the day we notice she escorts a well turned out elderly woman. Are they related? Is it a professional arrangement? At night she is uncommitted and alone.
Breakfast with a couple who are on their ninth trip with ‘The Black Prince’. They don’t do bus trips.
This is Killarney. Moored out in the bay again, we don’t see the dolphin on our way to the quayside. A longish coach ride to Tralee windmill and private preserved electric train. A large section of the windmill site is dedicated to information on the emigration of 1845 and after, a result of the potato famine. Its grim stuff – coffin ships as they came to be known.
Lunch in Kerry – the identical ham salad to the one we had at Portrush.
Afternoon visit to a museum. History and well presented. Sport is soccer and gaelic rules. No sign of Mick O’Connell who I saw at Killarney stadium in 1965 on our school scout trek. A section on Irish political history. Another on a local hero of Antarctic exploration who has only recently got his recognition, because hÍe worked for the British – had to keep quiet despite being a hero or the IRA might have called.
There’s no poverty here either. No sign of the dolphin on the way back to the boat – ‘Funghi’.
I cultivate a happy hour looking out of the window at the coast as we sail. Or on deck. The sun conveniently comes out regularly during these.
Paul tells us he does the quiz every day. Other diversions include cards, scrabble, bingo and the daily crossword.
The evening entertainment is ‘Thankyou for the music’. Afterwards Malou is ignored again.
Angelito is smiling and the music lies on top of the piano, unopened. He’s playing something he knows and its obvious by the result that he enjoys it.
We recognise some of our regular fellow night owls. There’s the man who sits alone at the bar. He knows the waiter by name and doesn’t need to ask for a drink. A half empty bottle of red wine is permanently on hand.
We park right up in the city. The river Lee has deep water all the way. But we are¸ facing the way out. Somehow we turned round in the night.
Travelling on the open-top bus, the funnel appears above the waterside buildings. Normally the boat stops at Cobh, infamous as the emigration point for the potato famine. There was a later more successful emigration of protestants who did well in America, founding cities like Williamsberg.
It rains and Cork seems like any other city. A bit tatty and full of cars and buses. Its difficult to cross the roads. We’re accosted by a family on foot, ‘You’ll be off the boat?’ Turned out they were English and visiting son or daughter in college. Regularly stay in a flat or house. They tell us about the Waterford Festival.
The open top bus trip is a disappointment. The traffic prevents synchronisation with the audio tape – stop start stop. Finbar’s cathedral is worth a look, from the outside at least.
Irish night at Jameson’s distillery. Youngsters in impressive costumes doing a riverdance style entertainment plus a fat bearded singer in a pullover playicng a drum (?bodrum), a girl on keyboards and another pullover on guitar. We meet someone of our own age – Marie and Mike from N. Wales.
The boat sets off and we watch from the top deck. The rope work is intricate and takes time. Cap’n Fred supervises from the side – seems to have all his engines hooked up to his position. A touch here another touch there and we edge away between green lights. Seems we are following the tide.
No Angelito tonight.
Breakfast with the history lecturer – Richard Doherty. I don’t let on I’ve not attended his lectures. It coincides with my stella. There is a garden one as well but we never meet – why should we. Win and Paul are garden people. ‘My only interest in gardens is sitting in them’, soon killed that potential conversation point. They are amused by straight talk.
Richard is from Londonderry. Otherwise known as Derry if you are a republican. Came to be known as ‘stroke city’ on the local radio. The presenter accidentally shortened the politically correct Derry/Londonderry. I’ve read a number of Irish authors and the conversation goes from them to Richard’s school memories (Daedalus in ‘Portrait of the Artist’). Richard’s tapes are as real now as ever particularly concerning one sadistic monk cum teacher. Long after leaving school he met this father in a car park, or rather he didn’t because he was behind a car on his knees hiding, hoping he wouldn’t be noticed. Richard went to his funeral to make sure he was dead. Then it was the ‘troubles’ (Roddy Doyle). Soccer is not recognised by republicans because it is British. Richard’s father or uncle was a great follower of the celtic games, on the committee, chairman to boot. He liked his soccer too. Another committee member exposed him once, saying he’d seen him at a soccer game. Richard’s relative owned up to the accusation, saying how could people be found out unless you went to these sorts of games. It’s also the reason for the controversy over locating the Irish rugby team at Roker Park in Dublin, the home of gaelic football. Richard will research the surname ‘Malone’ – the married name of my great grandmother.
We take the tender to St. Mary’s. My mother and father came here a lot – referred to it as ‘the islands’. I later discover that my brother never came, despite taking regular holidays with the Devon/Cornwall end of my sister-in-law’s family. A little skelheton there I think.
White sand, blue sea, warm breeze. Wouldn’t survive much of a rise in sea level. Jaquie tells us that she was too late to book the official tour off the boat – in a bus. So she ordered a taxi for her and Ron. Nothing wrong with that. It seems they were late.com – I’m not tempted to ask how much their tickets were, I’d only be depressed.
The unattached young girl sits at the end of the bar with the waiters. They pay her a lot of attention.
Happy camping, coffee, gym, smoked salmon salad and white wine. We later learn that many of our fellow cruisers went back to the boat for lunch with the story that nothing was going on in Waterford.
Sat outside a town centre pub, recommended by ‘The Rough Guide’, minding our own business, second small bottle underway, salmon gone, a young man puts a keyboard stand up, near to the entrance. A second floor window opens and someone throws out an electric cable. Several heavies in black make adjustments to the canopy. A microphone stand. A keyboard, two stools. ‘Would we mind just moving this way?’ ‘Shall we go inside?’ ‘Not at all.’ A gig is in the process of being set up. The sun comes out. Cars mostly go from left to right and there are more of them. Families, young couples, groups of loud youths, girls and boys appear, walking from left to right. The young man is joined by another young man with a guitar and they sit and talk, occasionally picking out a note. Strange that period before a live act starts, how long will it be. Its too long but they do eventually begin and they are great. We are their only fans and we are enthusiastic. We are appreciated. We are mentioned in an introduction to one of their songs. Very soon we are not their only fans. The roads and pavements are busy. Some walk, others are milling, drinking, talking. Its a street festival, all in less than an hour. We move on, silently clapping our duo as we go.
Several venues throughout Waterford, something for everyone. A ‘Freddy Mercury’ tribute artist cocks up a juggling act to the accompaniment of ‘Another one bites the dust’. He finishes by surfing the crowd. A very smooth group of very smooth young men in suits sing without instruments, or do they? There’s a drum there somewhere. One of them even creates a breakdown with the mike. They are ‘The Magnets’ – a well known support group on the London circuit. We must get out more. A large group of sweaty drummers leave me cold. African rhythms down a side street, glimpses of striking colours and costumes. And then it was time for the bus. Super afternoon. Cap’n Fred catches the same bus. ‘Ere Cap’n Fred, how did you turn round in Cork?’ ‘We got a tug.’ The answers are always so mundane. Course he did. Aren’t questions more interesting?
The Troll Buffet tonight. Food carved into small animals and people. An ice sculpture. Yards and yards of food. We cannot eat all this. We are not expected to. Its the cook’s songs from the shows. Phillipinos under the direction of a Frenchman, making a Scandinavian table for 400 incredulous English people. Its a colossal waste.
I admit to being a medic. Win tells us she’s had a kidney transplant. She looks well on it. It is a horror story though. The disease was inherited. So her mother knew of the problem but didn’t tell Win until after she was married. Do I remember correctly that it was soon after they were married, thought I can’t believe it was actually on the wedding night. So in those days it was a death sentence and infertility. Not so. Win is a miracle. Two successful children with impressive CV’s (education, education, education) and Win alive and well in her 60’s.
Up with the night owls,¡ red wine man at the bar has a companion. Two to be precise, man and wife. The man is large and slurs his words. He sways between the bar and the piano, not quite in tune, with a short drink in his hand. I hadn’t noticed but the piano has a bar on it – how handy is that?. When Angelito has a fag break, so does the he. They discuss music maybe?
Is a great place! We have a tour booked and we stay in town for lunch and the afternoon. You can walk round lots of it. The river is never far away. Some bits you need more time for a walk or transport – James Joyce museum, the gaol. Most things are around O’Connell Street or Temple Bar. Lunch at Bloxty Cafe. ‘Would you like this?’ a waitress offers me a half of guiness, ‘someone poured it by mistake, its yours if you want.’ The Bridewell for a memory of 1971. Trinity college for a breather, sublime quiet and cricket pitches (there were others in Phoenix Park on the morning trip). There’s the Boÿok of Kells too but not today. The Four Courts and The Post Office don’t seem different from 1971, 1916 come to that. The statue of James Joyce is new. We are approached by beggars, four on four separate occasions. Weird. Is it real poverty? Or has Ireland simply become up to date?
Happy hour as we leave Dublin’s port. Sunny again.
Another captain’s cocktail party. Many of the crew do a turn as part of the final night’s entertainment. We have a late drink with Marie and Mike. She’s a midwife and very direct.
We are the stories we tell, or don’t tell, or make up. If we don’t tell them then they will appear in the vacuum somewhere, distorted, incorrect. What we do tell can be creative and not quite true, whatever truth is. But then its back to your co-authors who have read or co-written all your previous chapters.