Well it is now.
We arrived in Southampton in the dark on Monday morning. The Red Funnel ferry was getting ready. Lorries were in position to start revictualling QE.It was dull and drizzly but the activity around the ship was startling. The luggage was being taken ashore. During the final evening luggage is collected from outside cabins between 5 and 10pm and stored down below. Literally thousands of cases.
Once the ship is tied up, swarms of fork lift trucks buzz about the dock side taking cages full of cases from the ship to the ground floor of the terminal building. There a crew sort them into various colour groupings, so that when passengers come ashore they can find their cases according to the colour allotted to them. Massive numbers of people are involved in the process on the ship and ashore.
By the time we got ashore it was very easy to find the suitcases, and Gary with the taxi and Ian in the Vauxhall arrived simultaneously to whisk us home. Until the next time!
Commodore Ron started the day with a presentation from his scrapbook of cuttings recalling incidents in the career of Queen Elizabeth 2, which is the way in which he always refers to that ship – rarely does he say QE2.
He was followed in a Q&A session by the present Master of the Queen Elizabeth, Captain Aseem Hashmi. He was brilliant.
I had lost track of the days. Today was a Saturday and that means Premier League football on TV on the ship subject to the satellite working satisfactorily. It did and one of the games shown live was the Saints against Man United. Although they lost 0-1 the Saints played very well and were the better side in the second half. Sadly they don’t have the fire power at present.
It was the last formal night on this voyage. A wonderful menu and exceptional wine. And the evenings show featured the ships singers and dancers, so of course we were near the front.
This is our table. Maureen from Bishops Waltham is at the front left and then clockwise it is Gordon and his wife Barbara from York, Diana from Henley, Kim, Jane and me. And our waiters and sommelier.
And this was the Captains table on Wednesday
Sam Scrutton has resolved the error message that some of you had reported receiving when attempting to go back into my blog archive or when you tried to make comments on the blog entries. I should have known it was a matter of resetting the .htaccess! The man is a genius and as a reward I am sending him and his bride to Hawaii tomorrow for their honeymoon!
We have just left Gibraltar. The weather has been glorious all day and we are now heading West before “turning right” for home to quote the Captain. .
Close by us while berthed in Gibraltar were 2 superyachts, the Clio,
which seems to be a very small cruise ship and ‘Yacht A’
which has apparently been impounded by the authorities following a dispute between the boat yard and the Russian billionaire who commissioned it. A small dispute over a final payment of about €5million, it seems, but my information may be out of date.
Yesterday my Godmother Ethel Child was 100 years old. She was my mother Wyn’s best friend and was the most remarkable god mother. Throughout my life she sent me a calendar every Christmas – usually a Lincolnshire calendar. She lived for as long as I can remember in Grimoldby, near Louth. As we were away I couldn’t make it to the party yesterday but her daughter Cherry tells me it went well. It was probably not as lively as the party here.
We had the comedian John Evans on first – a brilliant comic and later we had the Crew Talent Show. Some amazing singers and dancers from amongst the crew, followed by some well known corny old Cunard sketches. The theatre was packed.
Today the departure from Gib was billed as the Great BRITISH Sailaway. We left at about 1400 and bearing in mind that most of the guests are older than me, it was pretty hectic. Drinking, singing and Union Jack waving under hot sun. I was hoping to see a Spanish gunboat, but there were none to be seen.
So the big day has arrived!
We have seen a number of presentations today including the Pathe News film of the launch of QE2 – twice. It’s very moving – although the ship didn’t move immediately – Her Majesty the Queen spoke the traditional words (although the name was a secret) ” I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. God bless her and all who sail in her”. She pressed the button, the bottle hit the bow and for a moment nothing. The camera turned to the Queen again and to the shipyard MD alongside who looked somewhat concerned. The ship seemed to be stuck, but after a few more seconds, to much relief, she started to glide down the slipway and into the Clyde.
The historian/author Chris Frame spoke first leading us through the QE2’s nearly 40 year career as the most iconic ocean liner of all time. The launch, the faulty turbines, the bomb threat, the engine conversion, the Falklands, and the final voyage to Dubai (we were there!)
There followed a Q&A session with Commodore Warwick, Captain Ian Macnaught, Maureen Ryan and the present Captain Aseem Hashmi on stage, answering questions from the audience. It was very entertaining, but not too many secrets were revealed.
On arriving back on the ship from Tuscany, there was an invitation from Captain Hasmi to sit at the Captains table for dinner on QE2 Day, Wednesday 20 September. There was a World Club cocktail party beforehand. Captain George Smith still exercises some influence! And Derek and Helen Barnes. They know what I mean!The Captain had arranged for Jane to sit on his right. She is always seated next to the Captain whenever we have such an invitation. It was a fun evening with friends Ron and Kim Warwick, Pam and Peggy Zirkle, and Maureen Ryan also guests of the Captain.
Captain Hashmi is a lovely man and a brilliant communicator. He trained first as an airline pilot with British Airways, on their 737 fleet but soon after completing his training, he and hundreds of others were grounded because of the economic downturn in the aviation industry. He decided to alter course to the booming maritime sector, switching from air to sea. He joined Cunard as a Deck Officer Cadet and rose through the ranks, his first promotion to Captain being in March 2013.
We have all adapted back to ship life amazingly quickly. It was as if we had never been away. Although we had missed a number of ports, when we boarded the ship again, we were told that there had been a hailstorm while the ship was in Split and that when the ship was in Dubrovnik, the City was incredibly busy as it was a Saturday. So we don’t feel so bad about missing ports!
This morning there were three presentations in the theatre.
Chris Frame, the young Cunard historian and author, seems to get the 10.00am slot. Today he talked about the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in the Thirties through to the Sixties. It was great for me because my father sailed on both those ships during the war and during my early years. The fact that he was assigned to those ships was the main reason for my parents move to Southampton when I was a year old.
My fathers first command of one of the Queens was in 1966, when he briefly became Captain of the Queen Elizabeth. He was the last but one Captain of that ship. That was just before it was sold and he was assigned to the QE2.
Chris is a brilliant speaker and knows his subject better than anyone I know. Not only did he deal with the original Queens, but he also covered the rest of the Cunard fleet.
He was followed by Commodore Ron Warwick who took us through his career at sea from HMS Conway as a 16 year old through cargo vessels to Cunard and eventually to command of QE2. Of course he became the first Master of Queen Mary 2 and was appointed Commodore. His talk was brilliant and brought back many memories for me because his father and my father were the first team of Captains appointed to Queen Elizabeth 2.
Number 3 was Maureen Ryan, who worked for Cunard for most of her working life. She spoke about her time on QE2 and most of it was hilarious. In the early part of her presentation she showed a photo of a group and on the right of the picture was my father. I grabbed my camera and took some pictures while she was describing who was in it. They are not very clear. I saw her later and she promised to email a decent version to me.
‘A number of new photos have arrived of the wedding and the weekend in Italy.
A number of readers have said they cannot get at the blog prior to the change to WordPress earlier this year. All the blogs before 2017 can be found at www.smithyscruiseblog.blogspot.com
Today is the day before QE2 day. We have had 3 great presentations today and I will report on them tomorrow.
And this chap appeared in Maureen Ryan’s talk!
We are still in Tuscany. It is Sunday and I am assembling the family troops and vehicles. Our cars had been left in the mountains at the wedding venue after the Saturday celebrations. Numerous gallons of excellent wine had been consumed and driving was out of the question on Saturday night. A shuttle service had been organised by our hotel so that we were returned safely.
The lunch time party was organised outside. Again too much beer and wine was on offer with wonderful fresh pizzas and salads being produced as we ate. So more shuttles were the order of the day.This was the groom the morning after, with Steve Hoskins.
Inside the building the children’s disco entertained them (and us). It was a ‘no children’ wedding but the family managed to get their children and grandchildren into Tuscany under cover. Some had to break cover to be bridesmaids. By Sunday they were all running free, but sadly the swimming pools were very cold, so theymade do with table tennis and dancing.
On Monday we had to be up early. We had to get to Venice in time to drop off the car, have all the arguments about alleged damage to the car, find the prearranged taxi and get to the port before Queen Elizabeth sailed. The unknowns were potential jams on the motorways and difficulties with the car hire company, but we covered the 340 kms in record time. The taxi man was difficult to find but we were on the ship by 2.00pm and believe that 100% of the deposit on the car will be returned.
The ship sailed at 5.30pm. It was raining but the views as we sailed down past the Grand Canal and St Marks Square were magnificent.
Saturday 16 September 2017 – Sam Scrutton and Katie Holt’s wedding.
The big day had arrived. All the planning was to come to fruition today. Our immaculate planning was nothing compared with the planning required to put together an event like this in the hills of the Apuan Alps.
Red and I decided to check out the whereabouts of the Villa. From the main road and the village of Borge a Mozzano we drove up steep, narrow twisting roads and tracks. As we approached the Villa we could see it, but couldn’t reach it, because of numerous catering vehicles blocking the entrance. I then executed an immaculate twenty point turn on the edge of a precipice to get us out and back to the hotel.
It was a 4.00pm wedding on the lawn in front of the Villa’s chapel. The official who conducted the wedding dressed for the occasion. Jeans, jacket and open necked shirt! He spoke in Italian, but luckily the wedding planner translated for us. The bride Katie looked stunning.
Most of my photos were taken from behind, for which I apologise. As family, we were honoured with front row seats, but that meant that I was unable to roam with my camera.
As the weather had began to deteriorate, the wedding breakfast was moved inside. Brilliant speeches and plenty of them. The bride (yes the bride – how things have changed!), her father, the groom and the best man. A great evening.
The best incident was immediately after they had been pronounced man and wife. Katie half turned to the congregation and executed the best fist pump I have ever seen. Regrettably I failed to capture it on film.
Thursday. Up early and off the ship by 8.30am to find the pre arranged taxi. First problem. Scores of taxis and drivers, all desperate for our business, but none of them our driver. Eventually found him outside the port. He didn’t have the right pass to get in!
Swift ride to Catania airport where we were rushed through to check in. Soon at the gate and the airport “assistance” people had Jane in her seat on the plane without any fuss. An hour later at Rome airport the whole operation worked like clockwork and we were soon seated in another plane for the flight to Pisa.
The next worry was the case. Would it have changed planes as quickly as we did? Success.
The car hire was the usual squabble over insurance, scratches already on the car and fuel. They took a massive deposit so there will be a major argument when we drop the car off on Monday in Venice.
It was an easy drive up to and round Lucca and then north to the Hotel Milano in Borge a Mozzano. We found the Fiddians, the Hooks and the Hoskins in the bar. They were about to eat so we joined them for supper. They had no choice! Next morning we drove to the Airbnb apartment that Louise and Red had taken for a week. Mike then arrived from Dubai via Bologna and Gretchen from Dubai via London (where she had been working for a few days) and Pisa.
With the grandchildren, Ethan and Charlie, the Smith family ate in the Restaurante Milano. It was a rare family gathering, but great fun.
The wedding was on Saturday – to be continued ………………..
Professor Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz was due to give her second lecture today. Her first presentation dealt with the Outer Space Treaty and was an introduction and overview of Space Law. She delivered it on Day One of the cruise. That morning I was very tired. I had spent the previous week getting everything sorted for the trip. As a result I have to admit that I nodded off a number of times during the talk. Luckily I don’t think she noticed – the lighting makes it difficult to see the audience from the stage in the Royal Court Theatre!The fact that she was an expert in the Law of Space reminded me that a good friend of mine in my university days had eventually become an authority in that subject. His name was and is Sa’id Mosteshar and although I read Law, he did not. I think he read Physics. I may not have all my facts right but I think he then gained a Masters in Statistics. I then heard that he had qualified as a Chartered Accountant but had decided the Law was for him and qualified as a barrister in the U.K. By this time our lives had gone in different directions but I know that he joined the California Bar and at one stage specialised in the Law of Space.
So today being refreshed and awake, I approached Professor Gabrynowicz as she was about to be introduced to the audience before her second talk. Did she know my old chum Sa’id? Oh yes she said. He is a very good friend of mine. I know him well. He has a very important position in London.
I have looked him up. Sa’id is Director of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law and the Professor of International Space Law.
Today’s presentation was on The Law of the International Space Station. It was excellent and generated a large number of questions from the audience. I will have to persuade Sa’id that there is another career awaiting him aboard Cunard ships.
I’m not sure if I have mentioned the people on board who we have met on Cunard Queens before. Apart from the Cunard “royalty” Commodore Ron and Kim Warwick and Captain Ian and Susan McNaught, there is the, now retired, Federal Judge Tom and Kathy Whelan. Tom was appointed as a Californian Federal Judge by President Bill Clinton. He had started his legal career as a District Attorney in San Diego.
Pamela Zirkle and her mother Peggy are on board. We have sailed with them many times. There are some ladies who we have sat with at dinner in the past. Anne, who apparently decided to leave her husband at home, Vivian who lives in Poole and others who recognise Jane and come to talk to her.
What I failed to tell you was that the weather was magnificent today. A calm sea, a clear blue sky and sunny with a gentle breeze. Perfect holiday weather.