‘The Land Down II’

pmulder-portsaid

 

It was the third of November 1969, and I guess you could say that’s when it all started.  On that day, my until then, fiancé and I were married in Crammond Kirk, a small seventeenth century chapel on the outskirts of Edinburgh.  After the reception in a hotel on the cold windswept banks of the river Forth we set off on the first leg of our journey to the land down under.

Yes, we were ten quid (£10.00) Aussies.  Under an assisted passage scheme subsidized by the Australian government we were treated to a six week cruise to Oz, from South Hampton via Las Palmas, Cape Town, Durban, Perth, Melbourne, and finally Sydney. 

How many grooms can boast a world cruise to consummate their union?  And boy was that some cruise.  Amid a fanfare of tickertape and a brass band our ship the ‘M.V. Fairsky slowly slipped away from the dockside and headed out into the English Channel. And about five hundred hopeful immigrants set out on a journey that would transport them half way around the world.

Although well below the waterline, way down in the bowels of the ship, my new bride and I at least had a cabin to ourselves.  Hardly wide enough to swing a cat, and with two skinny bunks, one above the other, was to be our home and love nest for the next six weeks.  I hasten to add that for the greater part of the voyage, only one bunk would sustain our full patronage.  It is amazing the discomfort one can sustain while in the full passion of youth.  And the closer we became to the tropics, the hotter and hotter it became. Other honeymoon couples aboard were not so fortunate and were separated into same gender shared cabins.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case the many lifeboats would become their lifesavers so to speak.

There were on board full fair paying passengers, returning Aussies for the most part and to them my sympathies were extended.  Not only did they have to suffer the discontent of the moaning pommies, myself and new wife not included, for I have never considered Scots to be pommies.  But they were treated no different than the ten quid Aussies.  It’s not that our treatment was bad, more substandard would be a better way of describing it.  The food for example, although varied and edible was not what one would expect from a normal cruise ship.  Unless, of course, numerous bouts of dysentery can be conscreued as normal.  Having to queue in line to use the ablutions in the tropics cannot be considered a pleasant experience, particularly in heavy seas.  Now this may have been a cunning dastardly, cost saving plan by the ship owners, for at one point the entire ships complement was restricted to a diet of dry toast and boiled rice.

During the long tropical days if not sunbathing or propping up the bar, which is where most of the Aussies could be found day or night, activities were generally centered around the theater lounge.  Here you could partake in a game of bingo, or old time dancing, a game of whist, or simply while away the hours until the lights were dimmed and the nightly disco burst into life.  Yes, there was a cinema on board, a tiny claustrophobic cabin that was more than over crowded with an audience of less than thirty viewers.  As I remember they never changed the movie for the entire six weeks.  ‘Robbery On The High Seas,’ or some such title, not really worth mentioning, but for the storyline.  Frank Sinatra starred in an unlikely tale; the captain of an old world war two submarine, and his cunning plan to hijack a modern cruse liner.  I think his plan would have dramatically backfired had he popped up alongside our ship of near penniless immigrants.

The nightly discotheque was definitely the highlight of our day.  Situated on the after end of the boat deck, most conveniently so for those unfortunate honeymooners I mentioned earlier, we drank away the nights with cheap booze, and danced endlessly to the shrills of, ‘Sugar Sugar, I Heard It Through The Grape Vine, and Dock Of The Bay.  Now this is where things became interesting. 

Vick a returning Aussie and by then a good friend, with a reputation for being a bit of a tinny, challenged me to a drinking bout.  Now how could a good patriotic Scot such as myself turn away from such a challenge?  After all the Scot’s are not known for their sobriety.

Twelve cans each (Tooies,) and the challenge would begin on the stroke of mid-night.  The problem was that by mid-night both Vick and myself would both be well on our way to oblivion.  The last conscious memory I have of seeing Vick that night was lying face up on a settee, with eyes closed, but with his mouth still open.  His new wife Helen not wanting Vick to loose face to this upstart Scott was freely pouring beer into his open upturned gullet.

That was when I decided I wanted to sing.  I climbed up on to the nearest table and burst into a harmonious rendering of ‘Oh Flower Of Scotland.’  Half way through this memorable recital I decided I needed to throw-up.  ‘Ah,’ you may say, ‘what a disgusting display of projectile vomit.’  But no, remember I could not let down my Celtic heritage.  I withdrew to the nearest bog, where upon I freely admit, chundered the entire contents of my innards. 

On returning to the assembled company I reclaimed my spot on the tabletop and continued my recital.  It was during the second half of this memorable performance that my wife Sheila, (an unfortunate name for someone en route for Australia) signalled to me that my top teeth were missing.  ‘No probs,’ I exclaimed,  (you see I was already picking up the Aussie vernacular) and made a beeline back to the dunny.  There I discovered two unconcerned galah’s casually talking to each other while urinating on my only set of upper teeth.  ‘Excuse me gentlemen,’ I interrupted, while reaching down and liberating my teeth from the communal porcelain trough.  A quick rinse under the tap, and I was back on the tabletop for my encore performance.  Sad to say I do not remember much more of that memorable evening, but it was one of the few nights that I did get a whole bunk to myself. (Nor was I favoured with a good-night kiss.) 

There was one other memorable account worth mentioning.  Both Vick and I in a similar state of inebriation managed to liberate several, and I do mean several young women of their panties.  As the sun crept over the horizon the following dawn the said panties were to be found high up on the main mast obscuring all the navigating lights. (an extremely hazardous climb I may add)  The master of the ship was none too pleased.  He did launch an investigation into the incident, but fortunately none of the passengers were too enamoured with the Italian Crew, and kept shtum.  He had a fair idea who was responsible, and we were assured that could he have proven his suspicions, we would have been led ashore in Cape Town, in chains, and left there.

Vick and Helen disembark at Melbourne en rout for Adelaide.  We would meet them again a few years later when Sheila and I were driving across Oz, but that is another story.  We continued on to Sydney and our new life.  I will never forget the feeling of awe and splendor as ‘The Fairsky’ docked in the shadow of Sydney Harbor Bridge.

My time in the lucky country will live with me forever.  To date it has inspired me to write two novels set in Australia.  ‘Princess Sheeba.’ A children’s/young adult story set in the Queensland bush.  And,  ‘Right Hand Up To God.’  A thriller set in part in Sydney and Queensland. 

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