ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pamela is a
seventy-four-year old widow. She describes herself as a ‘teacher, a traveller
and a writer’.
Married for forty years to an
adventurous marine engineer, she travelled extensively with him in Europe and
Asia – in a lifeboat, on a tandem, on elephants and camels, by vintage car and
in whatever form of local transport was available.
Since his death, she has continued her global wanderings, alone, on old cargo container ships.
The Old Lady was becoming impatient. Either God
wasn’t listening, or his answer to her constant, ‘Please let me die and be
with Ken,’ was NO.
came to the conclusion, that whatever the cause, she was not dying and worse,
she was becoming a very boring old person.
Ken-on-earth had been singularly unimpressed, when she’d once before allowed herself to become boring. It followed, she reasoned, that Ken-in-heaven, probably surrounded by young, fascinating angels, was not going to be overwhelmingly glad to see a dead-dull old wrinkly turning up to claim her conjugal rights in the future.
It was time to move on and after a short spell of concentrated thought
‘I love travel; I love the sea; I once loved a sailor – I’ll sail
away and become, one day (at God’s pleasure) an interesting old angel.’
Passenger ships no longer plied the ‘lines’. Cruise ships had snuck
in to take their places. She knew that travel on one of those up-market, glitzy,
clean, safe, expensive models would have no hope of re-creating the Pamela she
remembered fondly. As she scratched around it wasn’t long before she came up
with her first ship.
Balboa was the German ship that would sail her into this planned re-creation of herself. It was an old container ship and its only essential features were that it carried a few passengers and it departed from her home port of Brisbane. Its destination had been quite irrelevant to the Old Lady, who was simply experimenting with the prospect of re-joining society.
She was lucky.
Balboa followed an interesting route across the Tasman Sea to Wellington and
Auckland and across the Pacific to Panama. It would transit a canal she’d
never seen, call at Kingston, Jamaica and pop her out in Philadelphia, where at
least she could find her way in English.
She joined Balboa two days
before her birthday, which she felt was a brilliant idea. No one would know; no
one would smother her with pity because she’d lost the husband she should have
been celebrating with. She smiled as she remembered all the birthdays when he
had been there. Silly old clown, he’d never remembered! It had always been
Lisa, her daughter, who’d made him buy something in time.
The family had all come down to Fisherman Island to see her off and to
come on board with her to admire the cabin. Lisa decorated her tiny table with
the huge bunch of yellow roses she’d brought. The children had brought
streamers and were dying to start throwing them, but there was lots of exploring
to be done first.
They found the decks where she could pace up and down; they found the
engine room – and were removed very smartly – and the bridge, where they
were tolerated for a short while. Everyone worried that the small, promised,
swimming pool, that they located at last on a small deck, right outside the Old
Lady’s cabin, didn’t have any water in it.
A very friendly, Polish Chief Officer called Mario, came across the
concerned little group and assured them that their Gran would be swimming the
very next day if she so chose, but it was always empty in ports, for safety. He
also invited the whole family to lunch, which filled in the space, until it was
at last time for all the lovely, reassuring, safe, relatives to go; to go,
leaving her alone… she must have been insane!
Alone on a ship full of Germans going to America!
What could she have been thinking of?
Pamela threw streamers to the children and waved till they were no more
than specs in the distance. Then she burst into tears and fled to the tiny, rose
filled cabin to tell herself that of course it was going to be difficult, but
she was going to re-invent herself if it killed her (and there was always the
hope that it might, wasn’t there?).
first pleasurable thing she discovered was meal times. She had been sure
anywhere as expensive as this ship, would have up-market pretensions about meal
times. She’d wondered how she’d last, if they had dinner about 8 o’clock.
She hadn’t thought to bring things to nibble. Her luck held; they were even
less civilised than she was. Dinner was at 5.30.
like a nursing home,’ she laughed to herself.
Balboa didn’t actually
leave Fisherman Island till after 9pm. She’d forgotten for how long ships
messed about, even once they’d said they were leaving. She stood outside to
watch the ropes as they slid silently aboard, winding themselves into huge,
tight coils. A couple of tugs chuffed officiously and in spite of her certainty
that she’d know, she didn’t even realise that their engines were running,
until, fast and smooth, Balboa took
With the lights of Brisbane and Redcliffe fading into the distance, she
went back to her cabin and extracted a small oblong container. She took out the
two wrist sized circlets of wide grey elastic, each decorated with a steeply
rounded white button. She smiled wryly as she realised that she could have made
a couple of those for about one hundredth of the price she’d just paid at the
local pharmacy. ‘On the other hand,’ she assured the Scrooge inside her,
‘if you’d just made a couple of elastic bracelets, you’d never have had
the fact sheet that came, neatly folded, in the little plastic oblong.’ It was
from that reliable little print-out that she had learned that for centuries,
people from the east had known that pressure points (three fingers up from the
wrist) would control sea-sickness and that the button on these scientifically
designed bands would do likewise. Comforted, she put on her precautionary sea-bands and went to bed. The nursing home theme sprang to mind
here too. The bed was high and narrow and had awkwardly placed rails, to stop
you falling out. As the gentle rocking lulled her to sleep, the Old Lady decided
that if she had to discover nursing homes, this was probably a fairly
interesting place to start.
As soon as she met the Captain, she knew she was going to find the trip challenging. He’d looked fiercely at her, taken her passport and grunted,
‘I don’t like Australians. They eat kangaroos.’
was a totally unexpected comment and Pamela felt her retort,
‘Do Germans have any wildlife left to eat?’ a bit inadequate.
Next morning, at breakfast, he’d laid down some rules.
She must not go anywhere at night and at no time was she to go on to his
bridge or into his engine room.
‘I’d like to see the engine room,’ she’d replied but was most
taken aback when he’d asked, ‘Vy? Are you a spy?’
A spy! Why would anyone want to spy on a twenty-year-old,
about-to-be-scrapped engine? She couldn’t think of any reason so she just
ignored him and wandered down to do her own inspections.
He followed her, watching her closely.
He needn’t have bothered. There was very little there that she could
recognise. Her beloved engines-of-yesteryear hadn’t been encased in tidy
boxes! With the unhappy Hun in tow, she looked intently at each piece, sneering
happily at a couple of leaky auxiliaries. She told him she’d been married to
one of P&O’s best engineers and liked to check on any engines she
travelled with and that although his engines seemed satisfactory, she really
He retaliated, ‘Steam is not nearly as efficient as diesel.’
She smiled politely and told him that not only was steam more fun, it was
much more aesthetically pleasing.
She’d go below as often as she dared if it was going to annoy him.
‘Eat kangaroos!’ she’d fix him.
The Old Lady had her cantankerous moments and that German captain was the
catalyst for them.
At breakfast, she met the other passenger, a very frail old American called George. George had been in the navy during the war, fighting submarines in the Pacific. His was a journey of closure. He needed to see the oceans where he’d defied death on many horrific occasions. Occasions when, because of his position in the engine room, he’d seen nothing and imagined so much. He was a gentleman of the old school. He stood when she entered a room and couldn’t even consider ordering a meal until Pamela had chosen first. He had been a sailor and later a teacher. Pamela found him quite endearing and it troubled her considerably that her conversations with him were less satisfying than they should have been. The problem was George’s accent. He came from somewhere in the south and the Old Lady found it extraordinarily difficult to understand much of what he said. What made it even more embarrassing was the fact that he seemed to have no trouble at all with her Australian accent.
It was at breakfast too, that she discovered how little she knew about foods of other lands! She passed on the cream cheese, onion and radish salad, (Salad – for breakfast! What a laugh) and on the peanut butter and honey on toast; passed too on a plate of cold corned beef and corn and settled on a comfortingly familiar plate of cornflakes with real milk. The real milk seemed to be a special, breakfast-only luxury, as the cups of tea and coffee she’d had, were topped up with a thick sort of condensed milk. The captain had bacon. No wonder he was so fat!
Mario was everything the Captain was not. He was young, good-looking,
polite and friendly. He seemed also to have no preconceived dislike of
Australians, so Pamela decided she liked the Polish first officer and would,
where possible deal with him rather than with Captain Hook.
After breakfast, Mario had asked her to bring her life jacket and meet him at 8.30 for lifeboat practice. George was excused as he’d already come from Philadelphia with them and had learned what to do and also as he was so old, Mario didn’t want to make him rush up and down stairs. It was all very formal. The Old Lady was shown how to wear the life jacket and was allowed to play with its little light. She was not to fiddle with the whistle! Mario escorted her to her lifeboat and showed her where she’d get into it, if it should prove necessary. She wondered why she had been given a particular lifeboat at all, because as soon as she became familiar with how to arrive there promptly for the regular practices, Mario told her not to worry about that if it were for real. If they really were abandoning the ship, she could go to any lifeboat at all as there were plenty.
Once the meet-the-lifeboat
practice was over, Mario turned to her, his bright blue eyes earnest and begged,
‘Please don’t go into the engine room or on to the bridge, because if you
do, it will be my fault!’
‘Ah,’ thought the Old Lady, ‘now that is going to be a bit
difficult. How am I going to torment Captain eat-kangaroos
Hook, without having Mario blamed for my possible misdemeanors?’
Pensively she wandered off, to pace the lovely, long deck and to look at
the decidedly unsteady ocean. She’d never worn sea-bands before and she looked
now at the unpleasant, grey elastic cuffs that gripped her wrists, cruelly
tight, leaving deep indentations in the sparse flesh. She gazed at the waves
crashing into their sharp bow and at the sea-bands that were allegedly
hypnotising her stomach into thinking it wasn’t going to react to those waves.
Balboa was reacting. She was bouncing across the tops with lively, happy,
little thuds. The Old Lady’s stomach appeared quite content, so it would seem
sea-bands were worth wearing, even if the constriction eventually caused her
hands to drop off. Anything was better than being seasick, wasn’t it?
Apart from the distress to her own being, imagine the horror of having
Captain Hook sneer at her as she lay dying,
‘Ach! That is the punishment for eating kangaroos!’
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(c)2005 Zeus Publications All rights reserved.