xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: May 2017

Friday, 19 May 2017

An Homeric Odyssey. Three young men in a boat. A very large boat.

Funny how an old song can trigger memories from happy days so long ago. I heard Andy Williams singing “Moon River” today. For most people Moon River reminds them of Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It reminded me that fifty five years ago, in August, 1962, I boarded the SS Homeric in Southampton, bound for Montreal. Moon River and Quando, Quando, Quando were the two songs that were sung frequently every night in the ship’s lively night time bar, The Taverna.

I was travelling on The Homeric with my good friends, Tony and Mike. With three other Aussie mates, we had all arrived in London in February. After working at various jobs in England for low wages for six months, we three decided to become New Canadians and migrate to Canada, searching for more lucrative employment. It turned out to be a wise move.

SS Homeric was a Greek ship. Well, naturally. However, all of the crew were Italians who believed that every day was a good day for a party. As the ship’s passenger list comprised mainly of young North Americans returning from summer vacations in Europe, the Italians did not have too much trouble getting everyone into the party mood.

The first night out we attended the Captain’s Cocktail Party. Here we met an enterprising young Canadian named Roy Green. It was lucky that we did, because almost at the same time we spied three very attractive young ladies sipping on their champagne and obviously needing to make the acquaintance of three young sun bronzed sons of ANZAC. 

Very soon we were trying to engage these young lovelies in conversation. I say trying, because although they seemed very pleased to meet us, whenever we spoke, these beautiful girls would burst out laughing.

They were from Chattanooga, Tennessee. They had never heard an Australian accent before and they found it so terribly amusing. On the other hand, these southern belles spoke with such a sweet, slow, honeyed drawl that we had no idea at all about what they were saying.

Even though we were all speaking English, Roy Green became our interpreter. He would tell the girls what we were saying and then let us know what the girls had drawled back to us. After a while the girls could listen to us without bursting into fits of laughter and we began to understand them without Roy Green’s translations.

One of the girls said, "You'all  speak very good English”

“Yair,” said Mick, “They teach us English at school?”

“Can you say anything in Australian?” asked another of the beautiful girls from Chattanooga.That was the cue for us to go into a routine that we had often used when asked the same question by non-British people at parties in London.

Mick said to me, “Kalgoorlie Wagga Wagga Wyalkatchem”.

To which I quickly replied, “Wundowie Coolgardie Gidgegannup.” Well this started the girls from Chattanooga to commence laughing all over again while Tony manufactured a translation along the lines of Mike saying the passengers were all very happy and me replying that we were all going to have a wonderful time.

After the Captain’s Cocktail Party we made our way to the Dining Room for dinner. Unfortunately, the girls from Chattanooga were nowhere to be seen, but Mick was pleased to be sitting alongside a beautiful girl from Boston. Her name was Michelle. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes and a smile that made friends with everybody. She was what you would call a Sunday Girl. Saturday Girls are for parties and having fun. Sunday Girls are soft and glowing and you want to take them home to meet your mother. Mike could see that this was going to be a wonderful ocean voyage.

Unfortunately, for the next two days the seas were rough. Many passengers kept to their cabins. We saw no sight of the Chattanooga girls and Michelle never made it to the dining table. However, the days were filled with lots of activities organised by the fun-loving Italians for those who had found, or indeed had never lost, their sea legs. They had a skeet shooting range at the back of the boat, a sports deck and a couple of swimming pools. There were lots of other activities, including Italian classes, which we attended because we noticed a lot of pretty girls were keen on learning that language.

On one of my sallies on to the sports deck I made the acquaintance of a fun loving Canadian girl named Sandy. She would have reminded me of Meg Ryan except that in 1962 Meg Ryan was just one year old. Sandy was as keen on a party as anyone but she was definitely a Sunday Girl. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. We stayed in touch throughout my two year stay in Canada and have corresponded, generally for Christmas and birthdays, ever since. In 1996 my wife, Lesley, and I enjoyed a delightful visit with Sandy and her husband in Victoria on Vancouver Island.

The social centre of The Homeric was the Taverna. It was very easy to muster up a party every night in the ship’s nightclub. It was in the Taverna, at about 11-00pm on the first night out on the Atlantic, that I met what was to become one of the great loves of my life. Yes, Hip, Hip, Hooray for pizza! They gave slices of it away for free while we all danced and we drank and we sang, “Moon River” or “Quando, Quando, Quando.”  The pizza pieces were served in rectangular slices. I had never seen or even heard of pizza until that night.

They had a Fancy Dress Ball on The Homeric one night. We were told it would have an Apache theme. I made arrangements to borrow some lipstick and other cosmetics from one of the girls on board. The idea was to paint my face and tie a feather duster to my head for that American Indian look. In my mind this get up practically made me a full blood brother to those great Apache warriors, Cochise and Geronimo.

However, when I returned to my cabin about 5-30 in the afternoon, our cabin steward was issuing striped t-shirts and berets. We weren’t supposed to look like Apache Indians at all, but like those French Apache dancers who generally treated their dancing partners quite roughly. I had a lot in common with those Apache dancers because, over the years, I have inflicted an awful lot of damage to the dainty feet of many pretty young ladies.

On our last day at sea we were seated for lunch when into the dining room came a vision of loveliness. It was the beautiful Michelle. She looked a little pale and fragile and had obviously not travelled well in the stormy weather. We all offered her our sympathy and Mike leaned in and said he would be happy to show her around the ship after our meal. As he was saying this the waiter placed Mike’s lunch order on the table. It was fettucine. But not any old fettucine. It was green strips of pasta in a pale green sauce. Michelle took one look at it and rushed from the room. We never saw her again.

The next day we docked at Quebec City in the shadows of the Chateau Frontenac. The afternoon we disembarked in Montreal and caught the overnight train to Toronto.

Tony and I were teachers and quickly found well paid and very satisfying employment in schools in Toronto. Mike, who had some bookkeeping skills, did not have documented qualifications for any position, but he was quick witted and possessed an opportunistic approach to life. Combined with his friendly personality and willingness to bluff his way through any situation, Mike eventually landed a job in Toronto with a large manufacturing company.

Tony and I eventually returned to Australia. Mike married a French girl and stayed on in Toronto. He spent the first three months in his new job learning what it was all about. Mike was a very fast learner. Thirty years later he was the national manager of the company.

However, that was a long, long way into the future when we dauntless three sailed out of Southampton that sunny August afternoon, “drifters, off to see the world, there’s such a lot of world to see”.
Tony, on the left, in a drinking competition to start off the evening, with an American college student. Roy Green, the translator, is in the middle. I am on the right and Mike is to my right. Some people are wearing the Apache shirts they kept from the Fancy Dress Night