Bye-bye Britain ’til Next Time

August 24th, 2016

Last day in the UK, so Ralph and I enjoyed a treat, a pub meal in “the Nellie,” a favorite pub of theirs in Farnham, dedicated to Admiral Nelson. They had a favorite quaff of mine on tap, Landlord’s. For the second pint, I tried all the other good ales they featured, but came back to Landlord’s. And to eat, oh, joy – a steak, Stilton and ale pie with delightfully flaky crust, one of the best I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t think I could finish it all, but somehow I did. I’ll diet tomorrow, to paraphrase Lillian Ross. (I think.)

From there Ralph drove me to the hotel we’d picked for me to stay in so that I wouldn’t have the anxiety of Heathrow traffic in the morning when I’m to fly home. It was extremely frustrating for him; the GPS kept putting us into a parking lot. We could see the hotel, but it took at least a half-hour to figure out how to get to it. No signage until we were actually there. But anyhow, we finally made it and all was well.

The hotel, called the Thistle Inn, was run by Indian people but was quite clean and perfectly serviceable. Curry was on offer in the dining room of course, but I didn’t need another meal after that big lunch. I settled for a pint of John Smith’s and a bag of salt and vinegar chips (or rather crisps, as they’re called here). I sat out on a rooftop lounge overlooking the runway; some of the planes taking off came quite close.

The bed was comfortable, but I slept lightly as I sometimes do when I have an urgent time that I need to be up. I woke early, in fact. There was a bus service to take me to Terminal 3 where I checked in at the Premium lounge. No hassle, even though Cunard had booked me in Economy. I needn’t have worried about my luggage being a few pounds overweight; they don’t give Premium passengers a hard time. I also zipped through the Fast security lane and settled into the Admiral’s Club to have breakfast while waiting for the flight to board. “Easy peasy,” as a dear Kiwi friend used to say.

Bye-bye, Britain, ‘til next time.

England Day 5

August 24th, 2016

In the morning, Ralph took me to the rental car place a couple of towns over to get rid of my car. It’s a day early, but I don’t need it anymore because he’ll drive me up to Heathrow on Monday. I’m quite grateful for that; I didn’t fancy driving in London area traffic and Heathrow’s a particularly difficult place to find your way around.

In the afternoon, we went up to Jean’s house (Jean is Sylvia’s sister, Ralph’s mother) to take her out for lunch. She’s been having problems with an ulcerated foot (exacerbated by blood thinning tablets she needs to take) and now plantar fasciitis. She’s using a walker, though she got by with a cane today. We got to see Simon, Jean’s daughter Cathy’s son and Bella, his daughter, Jean’s great granddaughter. Jean is lucky to live near “all her chickens” as Sylv used to put it. If Sylv had any regrets in the end, it would have been that we weren’t lucky in that way; we didn’t get to see our boys as often as she would have liked when they became adults nor did we get to watch our grandsons grow up.

Ralph and Sue took us to a regal old restaurant out in the country, a touch of bygone British elegance. I had roast beef from the carving cart and Yorkshire pudding – shades of Sylvia’s Sunday roast dinners. The meat was perfect, but to tell the truth, Sylv made better Yorkshire pudding, no question.

In the evening we just lazed around and watched the USA basketball team outclass Serbia for the gold medal. Not much of a game. Too much showboating after the outcome became clear early on.

Wales to England Day 4

August 24th, 2016

Chris came over to set my GPS for me, technological incompetent that I am. Emma and the boys, Ethan and Jaden, came with him. Ethan, who’s about 12, is startlingly bigger than I remember him from last year. He’s really beginning to look like a rugby player.

It was raining most of the way up to Ralph and Sue’s in Surrey. (Ralph is Sylvia’s sister’s son, our nephew.) As I was crossing over the Severn, the BBC Wales radio commentator described the weather as “blustery, wet, and ‘orrible.” It was as though the bridge were suspended in the fog.

I drove with extreme care, but still made it in three hours and a bit, not far off what the GPS had predicted. The rain had let up by the time I got to their impressive house that Ralph finished building a couple of years ago. To my surprise, I learned that they were trying to sell it. I imagine they’ll make quite a profit on it, because Ralph had done a good deal of the work himself and acted as his own general contractor for the rest. They’ve found a house nearby that they like even better. It needs some more of Ralph’s finishing touches, but it has a swimming pool.

We had dinner with two friends of theirs, a couple who’d lived in the U.S. near Chicago for a spell. He’s a psychologist who works in Her Majesty’s prison system (imagine what a challenge that must be) and she’s an executive with BP. Nice folks, nice evening.

Sue and I stayed up to watch the Olympic gold medal match in soccer between Germany and Brazil, which went to a shootout and was won by the home team on the last shot, scored appropriately enough by Brazil’s biggest star. It was worth staying up for to see the frenzied celebration of the Brazilian crowd who filled every seat in the stadium.

Wales Day 3

August 24th, 2016

Another sunny day, a miracle in Wales! The waitress led me to sit by the window. “When we get a sunny day in Wales, we need to take advantage of it,” she said.

After breakfast I walked down into the little town, about a mile and a half, and bought a book at the cancer charity shop. I hurried back up the hill to shower again and change. Lyn picked me up at 11:30 for a noon meeting with a lady at the main cancer hospital, who was more than enthusiastic. I think she sort of wished that something like this would have been available when she had been a young nurse! She quickly got what we are trying to do and made the excellent suggestion that the best place to recruit candidates who meet our specs will be the students who will graduate from the nursing academy in September. They’re sure to be young and unencumbered with husbands or children and thus available to do six weeks in Chapel Hill. They’re probably also just in the process of considering a specialty. I used to tell our guys in advertising that how you know you have a good idea is when people don’t just nod agreement, they want to get involved, contribute thoughts to your plan and actively help you get it done. That was the case today.

I wanted to go back to the hotel to change out of my go-to-meeting clothes, so Lyn came back to get me at 1:30 and we went on to pick up Maureen at the children’s hospital (where she runs the gift shop) and have lunch. She had had a good day too and was in good form.

They dropped me off after lunch down in the town so I could have a prowl around and again walk up the hill to the hotel. I may not be using the gym as I should have been, but at least I’m walking a lot.

Again in the evening, Kev and Lyn and I went off for a couple of pints to a favorite pub of theirs, the Six Bells, a traditional pub down toward the marshlands. You can smell the sea and hear the gulls screaming.

Wales Day 2

August 24th, 2016

Wales, Day 2

Morning dawned just as gloriously. After a real Welsh breakfast (not helpful to the waistline), I took a walk down the hill. (There are only two ways you can walk in Wales, down the hill or up the hill. There are no flat spots in Wales. Sylv used to say that if you ironed it out, Wales would be bigger than Russia!) I walked two miles, my Fit Bit says. Fair enough.

The sun is hot, the air is cool and there’s a slight breeze. I don’t know what the temperature is, but when a cloud hides the sun, it’s chilly. I wore shorts and a tee shirt, which is not the custom in the UK. One columnist wrote, “British men of a certain age can wear shorts provided that they terminate well below the knee and are accompanied by sockless sandals. The usual British summer uniform – short shorts, socks and either black or brown work shoes – should only be on public view if accompanied by a knotted handkerchief on the head.”

The meetings Uncle Lyndon set up with the head of nursing education and head administrator and the head of the pediatric oncology section of the children’s hospital re the Sylvia Lauterborn Oncology Nursing Fellowship were successful beyond expectations. Everyone was almost gurgle-y enthusiastic. In fact, even before we meet with the head of the main cancer hospital tomorrow, Lyn thinks he has a donor who would fund sending a second Welsh nurse to Chapel Hill, if it would be possible to add her to the program. He thinks there will be lots of interest and a strong competition.

Lyn took me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Cardiff and to my surprise and delight it was authentically Szechuan. Lyn’s eyes watered and his nose ran when he tried the hot and sour soup!

In the evening Kev and Lyn and I met up with a couple of Lyn’s old buddies, a city planner named Powys who kindly showed me several historic spots in the neighborhood of the pub and a great character named Peter, the child of Italian immigrants, a real self-made man. Five pints later, Kev brought me back to the hotel!

England to Wales Day 1

August 24th, 2016

We disembarked in Southampton at about 9:15AM, a very smooth operation. We’d sailed in at dawn and I got to see the docking process. Southampton looks like a pleasant small city, built around the harbor. The Queen Elizabeth was in too, about a half-mile up the wharf.

It’s a lovely sunny day. The temperature is going to go up to 24ºC (about 75ºF). Lucky me, since I’ll be driving down to Wales.

We had to put our luggage in the passageway last night, so when we got off it was waiting for us in a big warehouse-type hall, organized by deck number. We were told to leave our original boarding tags on to ease identification. The customs process had been done on board a couple of days before, quite expeditiously, so we just walked off.

I’d prearranged a taxi to take me to the Southampton airport to pick up my rental car and he was right there as we exited the terminal. The old town is pretty, lots of well-kept old buildings and plenty of green spaces.

Everything is going smoothly today, including the car rental. They gave me a Mercedes, because that was the only car they had that had a GPS system built in! It was a bit scary to drive it, especially in traffic while trying to get used to the wrong-side-of-the-road driving again. But I managed. It was a gorgeous day for a drive and gorgeous country to drive through, especially as we approached Wales.

The hotel Sylv’s cousin Kevin Jones had booked for me in Cardiff was just a couple of blocks up from his house – “dog-walking distance” as he put it! He and his wife Dawn had invited me to stay with them, but it was more convenient and less inconveniencing for me to stay in the hotel, which is quite modern and doubles as a fitness club. They gave me what they called “a cheeky upgrade” to Club level, so I have access to the gym. Seeing all these slim young things walking around in their leotards was inspiring. I thought I might hurt myself if I tried to hold my belly in any longer!

In the evening Kev and the dog walked up to take me back to their house for a drink in the garden with Dawn and Kev’s dad and mum, Sylvia’s Uncle Lyndon and his wife Maureen. Kev and Dawn’s son Ryan came by while we were there. He’s 31; I don’t think I’ve seen him since he was maybe 11! He does sound and other production work for films, primarily documentaries. They’ve turned what I think must have been the garage into a very useful recording studio for him.

Landing with the Queen

August 24th, 2016

Dawn rose directly to starboard, right into my cabin window.   I was awake early enough to see bits of the landing process.   The air is fresh.   It’s a lovely morning, cool-ish but going up to 24ºC later today while I’m driving down to Wales.

Last breakfast in the dining room with yet another new group of people, including a museum director and his wife from Columbia, SC and a couple from Woodside, Queens (where I met Sylv!) who are on their way to the ancestral lands of Ireland. (Woodside used to be a solid Irish neighborhood when they and I lived there; now it’s mostly Korean.)

I have an hour before I debark and I might as well wait because the taxi I’ve reserved isn’t ‘til 9:30.   There’s an official time (9:10) and place (Carinthia Lounge) when those of us on Deck 11 are to gather to be led ashore, where our luggage is already waiting.

Southampton is a busy little harbor and home to many members of the ship’s crew. In fact, I can see the Queen Elizabeth about a quarter of a mile away at her dock.

I have time to reflect a bit on the experience.

Positive memories: The ship is solid, clean and well run. There is one crew member for every two passengers, so service is not lacking.   Most of them are either Filipino or eastern European – Polish, Bosnian, Serb, Romanian. Slovakian – and they are well trained, it would seem.   (I had expected the ship to be more British, but even the English crew members are not exactly Etonians.)   My stateroom is quite nice, more spacious than I had expected and perfectly comfortable. The bedding is deep, soft and luxurious.   The bathroom is a decent size and the toiletries are high end.   The dining rooms are well appointed, elegant in décor.   The food is good, given that they have to serve 2600 people three meals a day plus snacks. The menu is varied – I had everything from barramundi to venison – and the portions are more than adequate. There’s a good range of wine and beer on offer, reasonably priced. The entertainment ranged from amateurish to outstanding.   On the top end were the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) troupe, a concert pianist named Daniel Hill, a female harpist, and an Irish lounge singer who had an act as polished as any Las Vegas lounge act, backed by the ship’s excellent band.   On the low end were the standard group of singers and dancers who put on various revues (they looked like college kids doing a summer job), an Irish comedian near death, and a cheesy ventriloquist act.   Still, there was something for everyone.   The lectures were frequent and again varied enough so that everyone could find something they liked.   My favorites were the theater people, Julian Woolford who directed many Broadway musicals on their national tours and a vintage actress I’d never heard of named Elizabeth Sharland who told tales about the good old days of British theater, about which she’s written several books. There were also lots of classes. Art classes were particularly popular and of course I enjoyed the bridge classes. There was a fitness center (which shamefully I didn’t use) and a spa. And games galore, from pub trivia to scavenger hunts, a casino and lots of children’s activities. And a well-stocked library. No one lacked for something to do.

Negatives?   I think just my personal funk at being alone.   I met lots of people, of course, but I had no one to hang around with and share things with. The ship is really set up for couples and families.   There were lots of things I might have done but didn’t because they would only be fun if one had a companion to do them with, things I saw and thought that I had no one to talk with about.   That’s the only real negative I have.   I would recommend the crossing otherwise, but not to a single person, even someone relatively open and chatty like me.

And so, time to go ashore and make some new memories.   Adieu, Your Highness.

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing with the Queen Day 7

August 24th, 2016

The sun rose this morning off the port bow, so we’ve changed our heading. (99º, the chart on TV says.) Of course, the key point is, “The sun rose this morning.” First time we’ve seen it in several days. Blue skies, gentle breeze, slight seas, 65º temperature. Maybe I’ll get in some deck time this morning of our last day at sea.

I’m a bit sandy-eyed this morning; I stayed up too late to watch the men’s 100M at the Rio Olympics. Maybe I’ll nap later, maybe in one of those classic folding chairs on deck that one always sees in the movies!

Thinking about where I’ll eat breakfast, it occurs to me that there are several classes on the ship, divided by where one dines. I’m kind of high middle, so I eat in the large and rather elegant Britannia dining room. There are a couple of classes above that; I don’t know where they eat. And there are some people who seem to take all their meals in the big King’s Court casual dress cafeteria amidships, families with young kids in particular.

As usual I sat with a completely different bunch of people again. One guy in particular I had a lot in common with, a Canadian engineer, and another had worked in the aircraft manufacturing business in the UK.
It’s been fun to meet so many different folks from so many different places.

After breakfast I went one last time to my intermediate bridge lesson. These have been quite instructive. I hope I can put some of what I learned in practice, next time I play. I’ve been playing with the same three people every day and my partner said she and her husband would like to have a drink with me later. We made a date for the Carinthia lounge at 5:30, just before my early sitting at dinner.

As it’s brighter this morning, I took my book and went out on the sunny side deck to sit in one of those canvas folding chairs that are always in pictures of passengers on steamships! It was lovely. I met a German couple sitting next to me, then when they left, a nice English couple sat down next to me. When we got chatting about the voyage I confessed that I wouldn’t recommend it to someone traveling on his or her own; so much of what I might have done with a companion, I didn’t feel like doing by myself. She said in heartfelt sympathy, “Oh, goodness, if we’d met you earlier, we’d have loved to have you tag along with us.” What a nice person.

Lunch I took in the Carinthia lounge and there was a fine pianist playing for us. I joined a couple of people I’d met before, the character named Roy who was a fountain of information and opinion (!) and a very tall white-haired woman he’d been hanging around with (he’s a fairly recent widower). She’s given up meat, gluten and dairy products, as well as anything she can identify as having chemical toxins. I asked her what’s left to eat and she said fish. I said, “Mercury’s OK, huh?” I shouldn’t have done that, but I couldn’t resist. She looked genuinely distressed!

This was the last day and as usual the clocks were advanced an hour. Now we’re on UK summer time, all set for tomorrow’s debarkation.

Having lost an hour, I decided to go get a head start on the packing; we’re supposed to put our big cases in the hall after dinner.

I still had a library book, so I went and asked the Russian lady librarian when I had to turn it in. It was supposed to be in by now, she said. I’m already inventorying. But I see that you have not quite finished this book so I will give you ‘til six o’clock tonight. She likes me, I think, because I said thank you to her in Russian the first day. I found a lovely sunny nook by the bow and speed-read. I knew you could do it, she said, proud of herself for her generosity!

I walked as far up to the bow as possible, but the wind multiplied by the boat speed, 20 knots, made it hard to stand up. Back to the room I went to change for dinner and my earlier drinks appointment, again in the Carinthia lounge where an excellent harpist was playing.

My bridge partner and her husband live on Lake Huron, amazingly enough, only an hour from Stratford, Ontario where I’d just spent the month of July! They’ve issued an invitation to come visit them if I go back up there next summer.

At dinner, I went back to my original table and the people I’d met on the first night. They greeted me like the prodigal son!

I hadn’t planned on doing anything after dinner, but someone recommended an Irish comedian who was performing, so having finished packing and put out my case, I decided to go have a listen. He was a superannuated Irishman, apparently quite well known in the UK, but between his thick brogue and his age he was almost unintelligible.

Back to the room to do this and get a good night’s sleep before landing tomorrow morning.

Sailing with the Queen Day 6

August 24th, 2016

When I woke up earlier, the waves were high and the wind quite strong, but it settled down to Force 7, still significant enough for them to close the foredecks.   The ship is being buffeted, the partially covered decks are windswept and running with water, and still the diehard runners and deck walkers are out there slogging away. Good for them. They’re far more dedicated than I, that’s for sure.

I did the full English breakfast this morning – sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, even black pudding and fried bread!   Good thing I don’t have to get my cholesterol checked for a couple of months.

 

Afterwards I took another intermediate bridge lesson.   I thought I was an intermediate player before I took these classes, but now I’m not so sure.   Maybe advanced beginner would describe my level more accurately.   And I’m not so sure about the advanced, at least not in this crowd.   Someone asked me if I was going to participate in the duplicate tournament this afternoon; I told them I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone!

 

The clocks were set ahead again at noon.   Smart idea.   We’re now on GMT and tomorrow at noon we’ll turn them ahead one last time so that when we land we’ll be functioning right on daylight saving time in the UK.

I had a ploughman’s lunch (way too much food) and a pint of Greene King at the bar in the Golden Lion pub again. I didn’t feel like a full lunch in the dining room, but I’m not sure it would have been any more generous than this.

After lunch I took in another session by the RADA (Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts) company, this time an hour-long version of “Pride and Prejudice.”   It was as good as I hoped it would be.

Right after that there was another presentation on theater history, by Julian Woolford, who I learned had directed a lot of national company tours of famous musicals.   Delightful insights into how the shows came together in the first place.

Now I have to decide what to do for dinner.   It’s the last formal night, so maybe although I’m tired I’ll go to the later sitting. It’s a bit more of an elegant crowd.   I’ll go back to my original table the last night (sniff!) when the dress is informal.

There’s a masquerade ball after dinner, but of course I’m not going to go do that.   There’s a picture in our photo albums of Sylvia and Leonia (her former PanAm roommate) wearing their masks from when they sailed home on the Queen Elizabeth in 1963, Sylv to prepare for our wedding.   But I’m not going to do that solo.   I look at people who are traveling with spouses, family members, friends and I’m a bit sad. I wouldn’t ever do a cruise like this again on my own. I was reminded of the first time I went to an ANA conference on my own decades ago. I didn’t know yet that nearly everyone would be there with his wife or in rare cases, her husband.   I felt so like a fifth wheel.   I’ll never forget the few couples who observed my discomfort then, took pity on me, and invited me to sit with them.   Howard and Chan Bell, for example.   In later years, Sylv and I did the same thing for a few waifs and strays at other conferences.

Dinner was again a pleasant group, a couple from Worcester (he works for the railways) and three women from Liverpool.   We talked about a lot of things, among them Brexit (they all three voted not to leave).

This was the last formal dinner.   Tomorrow night I’ll go back to my original table in a sports jacket.   I’ve started to pack, while I watch the Olympics.   The men’s 100M goes tonight, with Usain Bolt from Jamaica the favorite. (And he won handily.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing with the Queen Day 5

August 24th, 2016

A lady of a certain age asked me last night, a bit coquettishly, if I were one of the dance hosts! I’m not sure whether I should take that as a compliment or not. There are several mature gentlemen aboard whose primary function is to partner unaccompanied ladies at the various dance events and venues during the voyage. I responded that no, I have trouble buying shoes, because I have two left feet. She looked disappointed.

It’s again dawned gray and cold this morning. Foggy, too. The North Atlantic I remember from old WWII sea battle films is much in evidence with Force 8 winds and lots of whitecaps. I thought this voyage would deepen my tan, but I think I may debark with a prison pallor if this keeps up.

It’s a good thing that there are so many lectures and presentations and what-not to keep us busy when it’s cold like this. This morning a historian will lecture on the Battle of Britain – appropriate given that there are 900 Brits aboard (versus 1100 Americans). Then there’s another intermediate bridge lesson, then a lecture by Terry Waite about what it’s like to be a hostage.

In the bridge game, I achieved the correct result as both a declarer and a defender in the two duplicate bridge hands, though I played both hands incorrectly! Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. And even better to have opponents who make mistakes that offset yours.

Terry Waite’s is a compelling story. How does one survive five years of captivity without going mad? Asked what he missed most (other than family, friends and freedom), he said, “Books.” A sympathetic guard, who couldn’t read English and therefore didn’t know what he was delivering, slipped him a book now and then that he’d acquired somewhere. One was a manual on breastfeeding. “Not illustrated,” Waite said, dryly. I’m not sure whether that would have been good or bad.

For lunch I visited the Golden Lion pub and had fish ‘n chips at the bar, washed down with a Greene King IPA. Two, in fact.

Next there’s a classical concert by a pianist named Daniel Hill. Other passengers who’ve heard him say he’s quite good. I might do that, or I might watch some of the men’s 100M race heats on the UK channel. Or I might read. Or nap.

Instead I went to a session by an IT guy on how to use Facebook – and how NOT to use Facebook. I learned how to do a couple of things I hadn’t known how to do before. And heard a couple of warnings that I’ll heed in the future.

I walked forward along the open deck one up this afternoon and not only did I have to hang on to my hat, I could hardly make headway against the wind. Shortly afterward, all forward decks were closed. Visibility is quite limited too, maybe a hundred yards or so. Thank goodness for radar. Someone said that tomorrow the wind will be up to Force 12. If true, that’s going to be quite an experience. Even at today’s Force 8, the ship is bouncing around a bit. I think Force 8 is something like 35 or 40 mph. Force 12 must be virtually gale force wind.

The RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) troupe presented a cute little revue built around fun facts and stories about Cunard and its ships since the company’s founding as a mail service in the mid-1800s. Post WWII, the ships’ crew members bought everything in sight when they hit the port of New York. They were very popular when they returned to war-ravaged England where the stores were still empty. Sort of the reverse situation had been true a decade and a half before during Prohibition, when Americans booked passage on British liners just so they could get a drink! “Booze cruises,” those trips were called. I also learned that the Magna Carta returned home on the Queen Elizabeth after the war, having been sent to New York for the duration for safekeeping. There were lots of tales about celebrities who frequented the liners, of course, and assorted other trivia. A charming little performance, a nice way to pass the time before dinner.

The ship is rocking more than ever at the moment and the decks are being swept by sheets of rain. The North Atlantic bares its teeth. I’ve never been out in the open sea like this. Next time I read about one of those intrepid souls who sail around the world or even just across the ocean, I’ll have a better understanding of what they must go through.

Dinner was pleasant. Oliver, the maître d’, has been putting me at different tables every night. Tonight’s table was exceptionally interesting. I was chatting with the lady to my left when I mentioned that I’d liked a presentation I’d seen that afternoon by a historian talking about the Battle of Britain when she smiled and said, “Here she is!” The woman on my right said, with a very pleased look on her face, “I am she!” Was I glad that what I had said was positive! We talked a lot after that. Turned out that she, like me, had joined academia after a career in the corporate world, in her case, IBM. She did it more conventionally, though, earning her master’s degree and PhD first. Also at the table were an Italian architect and a 30-year-veteran foreign correspondent from the NY Times whose presentation I’d also seen that morning. Fortunately I hadn’t said anything about that, because I’d disliked him and what he said.

Post-dinner I went over to the theater to catch a featured ventriloquist act. As someone had said before, if ventriioquists were good comedians, they’d have been comedians. In this guy, it was a flat act with jokes that were, like the audience, venerable. I left as soon as I decently could.