February 11, 2007

The day I was doused in spaghetti

This appeared in the "Evening Star" newspaper

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley, 71, is having the time of her life aboard the QE2 on a round-the-world trip. She even got covered in spaghetti!

But who else is on board today? This week she met a woman who lives aboard permanently and quotes it as her address. This is her sixth weekly column.

'Blue skies smiling on me - nothing but blue skies do I see' except for Maui that is.

The weather was too bad for the tenders to reach the port, high sea swell, rain and wind, so that's a miss then!

We had four days at sea ahead of us before reaching Tahiti, so let me tell you about some of the passengers I have met. There are 1,587 of them, 646 from the USA, 480 from the UK, 134 Australian, 100 Canadian, plus various other countries, down to one person from Turkey.

Thomas Quinones is the social host who calls everyone 'darling' and rattles off facts like machine gun fire. He has worked for Cunard for over 20 years and manages the activities in the public rooms; balls, parties, dances, bingo, auctions etc.

It is his job to host the rich and famous when on board. Prince Phillip has been on board most times - seven in all. The Queen's next visit is scheduled for September 20, for the 40th anniversary of launching of QE2. Thomas' favourite is the Queen Mother who often came aboard - she was easy to look after. He tells the story of her interrupting lunch one day to get to a phone, as she had a horse running in the 3.30 at Ascot!

At the moment we have on board Prince Victor and Princess Irene Romanov who are regular clients. Looking at the passenger list, Lord and Lady Clophill Stedman of Suffolk are also on board.

I talked to Beatrice Muller who quotes her address as QE2. Apparently, her husband died on board in 1999 and begged her not to leave the ship - presumably he wanted her to complete her cruise (they had already done 13 world cruises). She took him literally, sold all her assets and has lived here ever since.

She said: “All my friends - crew and passengers alike are on board. I have everything done for me. There are doctors on board, there is all the entertainment or activity I want and it works out cheaper than a rest home”.

Worth thinking about folks. Maybe I will look into it when I get home!

There are many people travelling alone - not all of them single, and more women than men. Most are like myself, enjoying the experience. Some passengers are looking for a bit more fun and claim it's easy to “hook up” if that's what you want. Most of the single guys tell me they are looking for either a nurse, a purse or both! I suppose it works the other way too!

One couple have done the world cruise 25 times. 'Why?' I ask myself. Others are so blasé about everything - been there, done that, bought all the t-shirts. It's the ship they love so much. They tell me it's safe, sound, solid, they wouldn't travel any other way.

On January 31 at 10.20am we crossed the equator.

“When the ship's whistle blows we will be at 0*N & 0*S,” announced the captain. “Look out of the windows for the thin red line.”

Sure enough when the whistle blew, some people got up to look out - I can't believe they did that!

The ceremony of crossing the line dates back to the 14th Century. Initiation was dangerous. 'Pollywogs' (those who hadn't crossed before) were coated with bilge oil then dangled over the side of the ship held by the ankles. Today Pollywogs are doused with mango juice, spaghetti, baked beans and sausages. I was one of them. Having first kissed a fish and bowed to King Neptune, I jumped into the swimming pool. The things I do - it was good fun though and I received a “crossing the line” certificate and am now qualified as a “shellback”.

The next port of call was Papeete on the island of Tahiti which is part of French Polynesia where people speak French, Tahitian and Pidgin (mine = blang mifela, yours = blong yufela and we = yu mi tu fela).

Along with four others I hired a mini van for a tour of the island visiting a black volcanic sandy beach with warm clear water and many multicoloured fish, on to the Arahoho Blowholes - a cliff edge where the sea water is forced under the rocks and then comes out of holes either as spray or as in my case a huge wind which nearly blew me away.

We passed thousands of tall swaying palms, lush vegetation because the atmosphere is so humid. The flowers and plants put my M&S pot plants at home in Ipswich to shame.

Captains Bligh and Cook visited the island and there are restaurants and monuments to them both. Two films of Mutiny On The Bounty were made here, Robert Louis Stephenson was also here. I wonder if this was his Treasure Island?

In the evening the crew hosted a big barbecue party on the funnel deck. Terrific food and free drinks. There were Tahitian dancers in splendid costumes and did they wiggle their hips - wow! The men wore very skimpy costumes and their dancing reminded me of the New Zealand Haka. They were very skilled, agile and quite aggressive to say nothing of being suggestive.

The next day we anchored off Moorea - another island of Tahiti. My friend Gay and I had a mission to find a beach. “Maybe round the next corner,” we kept saying, as we slowly melted in the hot, humid atmosphere. We finally found paradise.

Soft, silver sand, tall swaying palm trees, a back drop of high volcanic mountains covered in lush vegetation and shallow, blue warm water again with multicoloured fish which swam up to and around me with curiosity. It was heavenly. There was a dolphinarium where we watched them playing and performing, a sting ray area and even a rehab centre for turtles.

The third “Mutiny On The Bounty” was filmed here with Mel Gibson in 1984.

Tonga and Fiji next.


Do you enjoy Mavis's column? Write to Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.


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