Sunday, October 5, 2008


So here I am, or rather ‘was’ (as I’m writing as the voyage nears its end), again.

The Boularibank is a sister ship to the Tikei and the Gazelle, my last two Bank Line ‘travelling homes’, and much to my delight I was allotted my same ‘Suva’ cabin as on the last two trips. It was a bit like ‘coming home’ when I walked in on Day One, because they are virtually clones.
I’d heard that the Boulari was rather less ummm salubrious than the previous two ships, but all I can say is, from a passenger point of view, that’s not so. We had a bevy of Polish lads (with a Yorkshire boss, see Darren and Taddeusz below) on board, working on an iffy boiler, so I guess that perhaps the bits we don’t see might work less well than the ones we do see, but I’ve had as comfortable and happy a trip third time round as on either of the other two. Much of which good feeling, of course, comes from the fact that I got lucky again (I’m beginning to think I’m star-blessed that way) and got to travel with Captain John Gunson and Purser Dave Ball (see below), with old Gazelle pal Artur as Chief Engineer.

We have been a full ship from the passenger angle: three French, three New Zealanders, one Australian, two British, two Dutch and one Franco-Kiwi-Something Undefined (me) and, by and large, we have been a jolly lot. With me in my favourite semi-almost bilingual job as interpreter. We have also been blessed by wonderful weather, so I have spent a large amount of time lolling in a deckchair up on Monkey Island reading (at the last count 39) books and watching for flying fish, rather than staying in my cabin working on my Victorian Vocalists.
The voyage from Dunkerkque to Tahiti (where we arrive tomorrow) is perforce not very eventful, give or take the Panama Canal, and even though we have, this time, a Filipino crew rather than a Russian one – which means karaoke nights – I’ve been modest in my public appearances. Only two karaoke renditions of ‘My Way’ plus a referee’s job for the ship’s ping pong tournament (winner: Artur, in a high-speed final against Darren the boiler chief).
A few days were spent literal-Anglicising poems by Emile Verhaeren – altogether more agreeable than last year’s Maeterlinck! – with the help of Annick from ***** for brother John’s newest volume of translations

there was a lively evening with the traditional mid-voyage barbecue

but I guess the ‘event’ from this trip which will stick in my mind was the demise of my much loved happy coat.
I remember buying it in Singapore in … goodness it must have been the 1980s, on a stopover during an airline trip Ian and I made from London to Sydney … and it has been one of my favourite and most oft-worn bits of clothing ever since. It was nothing special. Just a white synthetic ‘jacket’ with a brown embroidered Chinese character on the back. But I remember it made a surprising effect on my charming and wholly hetero neighbour, Robert, in St Paul de Vence, so maybe I thought I looked good in it. Mind you, ‘good’ at age forty-something, and ‘good’ now … Jean-Baptiste loathed it.
Anyway, I sported it on deck, one hot day in the Atlantic, and as I slipped it off preparatory to a sun-bathe, a great gust of oceanic wind stripped it from my hands and my shoulders and, next thing, there it was, floating off behind the ship, flapping its sleeves like a demented seagull, eventually to plunge into non-existence in the wake of the ship. I had nightmares that it would wrap itself round the ship’s propellor, but it didn’t. It just fluttered off to an Atlantic tomb, leaving me to grieve its loss.
First Wendy’s shorts, then my memory-filled coat.
Ah, well, I’m supposed to be looking forward, not backward. So, goodbye, old friend.

And tomorrow Tahiti. Heavens! more memories. I must be getting old. I see Alison and I, dancing wickedly together, in our minisicule young-peoples’ scraps of clothing, on a mirror-walled dance-floor, to the hand-clapping of a hundred delighted locals who had quit their own dancing to watch these two nubile foreigners cavorting … I see myself clinging to the stomach (oh, yes!) and loins of Warren Reading, our bass-guitarist, as we made a tour of island together, me riding unaccustomed pillion, on a battered hired motorbike with no foot-rests … when was that? Oh, Lord, about 35 years ago …
This time I shall take a minibus tour. No dirty dancing, no pillion riding … but the memories, precious memories, live on.
Is that silly?
I think not.

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