MONDAY, MAY 29
Our cab driver in Southampton once shook hands with the great Australian cricketer, Shane Warne, who was a passenger, ahead of a cricket match at the nearby Rose Bowl. Warne played several seasons with Hampshire. The cabbie loves a chat, and has theories on the origins of Covid, as well as being a knowledgeable soccer man, having attended yesterday’s Southampton v Liverpool Premier League match, which finished in a 4-4 draw. Southampton had already been consigned to relegation to the Championship, but it was a nice way for the club to finish a poor season. The cabbie says Southampton’s owners have taken a big gamble by appointing Russell Martin, currently with Welsh club, Swansea, as manager for 2024. The cabbie has been to Australia, where he saw an AFL game, describing it as a curious sport.
We had started the day with a full English breakfast at the Clothiers’ Arms Hotel in Stroud, where we had spent one night, following three nights in the nearby Cotswolds. Marie had ordered two poached eggs, but got the whole lot, although no black pudding. Coffee and hot chocolate from the delightful Snug cafe on the Thames/Severn Canal. One of the staff members says she is having a three-day break at Beer in Devon, from tomorrow. Marie and I had a look at Beer, when travelling in our Kombi van, in 1978. Our train from Stroud is on time, and stops at Kemble and Didcott Parkway, before a changeover at Reading, for the leg to Southampton, via Basingstoke, Winchester and Southampton Airport. A dad near us has his kids spelling, to pass the time, and throws in a trick question – ‘How do you spell HMV?’ The kids don’t fall for it.
Our Harbour Hotel is flash, and after checking in, we walk to Queens Park, where a family, probably of West Indian background, are enjoying a BBQ. We enjoy drinks (Doom Bar ale from Cornwall and Tanqueray Gin) at large, Lucian Curtis pub, a Wetherspoons’ establishment. Don’t know how other pubs compete with Wetherspoons, given prices are about half. Staff wear Shipyard Brewery t-shirts. Marie shops at Tesco on the way back to the hotel, while I wait outside, entertained all the while, by a dark chap, who walks up and down, talking what basically sounds like rap verse, into his phone. Marie and I share spicy chicken pizza and chips in Harbour Hotel’s roof top restaurant, watching water traffic on the Solent, including Red Funnel ferries to the Isle of Wight. There is an ad on tv for toilet paper – uncrack the world. A bit crass.
TUESDAY, MAY 30
Southampton’s Mayflower Monument acknowledges the Indigenous people of the region of the United States where the pilgrims’ landed. In Bargate, a feral looking guy chants: ‘The Skinheads are coming. Go home blacks’, Delightful. Marie and I have lunch at Marks and Spencer cafe, where a blond mum has two little girls with rosy red cheeks. The Roger Miller song, ‘England Swings’ enters my head. It probably would be politically incorrect these days. (Check out the lyrics). Marks and Spencer have been accused of snubbing the elderly by forcing patrons to use digital devices in eight of their cafes across the country. Not this one. Not yet anyway.
The Daily Mail sports sections leads on Leicester Soccer Club’s clean-out, following the club’s demotion from Premier League. Back in Australia, Queensland Opera sings ‘Lady Sings the Maroons’ on an Outback tour. They are at Charleville tonight.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 31
Our courtesy bus driver to the Cruise Ship Terminal is Bulgarian. Our fellow passengers – an elderly couple from Florida – wear masks. On board Silversea’s Silver Dawn our butler – Ahmad – is from Jordan and our maid – Tutu – is from Myanmar. Ahmad is ex-Emirates Airline employee. Silver Dawn has just completed a cruise around the British Isles and Ireland, and was packed. There are about 500 aboard for our Norwegian cruise (capacity around 650) with 150 from the USA; 130 from the UK; 50 from Canada; 38 from Australia and eight from New Zealand. Other countries represented include Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, France and Germany. There is a bottle of Monopole Champagne on the table in our cabin, and Stella Artois beer in the fridge. Becks and Budweiser are the only other beers available. In the Panorama Lounge, the barman, Carlos is from the Philippines, while our waiter, I Tuutha, is from Bali, and has such a lovely nature. The staff are from all over the world – countries such as Portugal, Ukraine, Italy, England, Norway and Zimbabwe.
As the ship leaves the Solent, and cruises along the coast of the Isle of Wight, we are joined by Phil and Sylvie, from Narrabeen in Sydney. Sylvie is German born, and her father still lives there. The couple have been away from Australia for the best part of two months, and have done a Greek Islands cruise. They both previously worked for Qantas and have tales about the behaviour of sporting sides. On a trip to South Africa the Wallabies got a bit wild. No. I don’t believe it? Not the rugby chaps.
Queenslanders on board celebrate as news filters through that the Maroons have won the first match of the 2023 State of Origin Rugby League series, in Adelaide, in an against-all-odds performance. The match was on the 24-hour Euro Sports Channel on the ship, but I didn’t know until after the game. Queensland coach, Billy Slater goes from strength to strength.
Marie and I dine in Silver Note restaurant, feasting on lobster tail and lamb loin. Sit near Victorians, John and Yvonne, who live in Ballarat, but also have a residence at Ocean Grove. We watch a movie – Tom Hanks, in ‘A Man Called Otto’. Very good. The door to our balcony cannot be closed properly and the wind is howling into the room. Our butler has knocked-off for the night, so I can’t phone him. There doesn’t seem to be a number to ring, other than ‘Emergency’, which, let’s face it, it is. Here goes. Well, how embarrassing. Emergency is really only for MEDICAL emergencies. The pissed off bloke who answers says to ring Reception. It is nearly mid-night, and I thought they would be shut. Reception send a handyman to the room, and after much effort, he fixes the problem, one which never should have happened in the first place, especially on a five-star cruise vessel.
THURSDAY, JUNE 1
Day at sea. Marie takes full advantage of ‘classes’ provided on board, first attending Yoga, and then a lesson designed to improve the photographic skills of people not completely comfortable with their smart phones. Professor Tony Pont from Leeds University (who now lives in Northamptonshire), gives a lecture about Norway’s second largest city, Bergen, our first port of call, and Marie and I attend – in the Venetian Lounge. The ship passes Dogger Bank windmill farm, and a host of oil rigs.
We meet delightful people. For instance, at breakfast we sat beside a couple from Newcastle, Australia, who support St George Illawarra. Boy, are they going through a rough time. At the Captain’s Cocktail Party, we sit beside Adrian and Vicki from Dorset in England, although Adrian is originally from Ardrossan in Ayrshire, Scotland. He is amazed to know Marie and I know all about the electric brae in Ayrshire, an optical illusion we experienced in 1978 when we were driving through the area in our VW Bug. Marie and I also dine with the Dorset couple in SALT. Our Sommelier, Kelly, from the Philippines, is hilarious. The wine is French. Later we attend the musical, ‘Mind the Gap’, in the Venetian lounge, with the Silversea Singers paying tribute to singers and bands from the 1960s.
Queenslanders have another reason to celebrate. Our women win their Origin match. Maroons’ legend, Chris ‘Choppy’ Close presented jerseys to the Qld players.
By the way – the Captain of the Silver Dawn is Luigi Rutigliano.
FRIDAY, JUNE 2
An ‘English Pub Lunch’ is provided in La Dolce Vita, with Silver Dawn’s executive chef, Grant Chilcott introduced to diners, as the lunch break draws to a close. Grant is from Tweed Heads, and attended St Joseph’s Primary School, before going to high school at Mount St Patrick’s, Murwillumbah, where I attended Primary School for four and a half years. He played junior rugby league for South Tweed Heads and senior footy for Cudgen. He is devastated by the Blues’ loss to Queensland. Silversea Singers provide music, as we dine on fish and chips, mushy peas etc. When one of the singers asks who likes George Michaels, no-one responds. Wrong age group, I fear.
In the Observatory Bar, Marie and I chat to three American ladies, one a Federal public servant; another a seamstress and the third a University lecturer. We are joined by one of their companions, Wayne, a retired State Public Servant. They are all from the southern States – Georgia, Alabama. Marie and I dine at Atlantide. I forget to wear a coat, but the restaurant management provide me with one. My steak from Texas is excellent, Marie’s from Argentina a little tough. We watch Cornish (not corny, although it is) movie, ‘Fishermen’s Friend’ before bed.
SATURDAY, JUNE 3
It is 11 degrees as we arrive in Bergen, after passing under the Ashoy Suspension bridge, the third longest of its kind in Norway. Our ‘Best of Bergen’ coach tour is OK, not great. Could not believe the fact whale meat was on sale at the fish market, as well as moose burgers and reindeer salami. I have no problem with moose or reindeer, just as I have no dramas with kangaroo and emu being eaten in Australia. Not so sure about whale meat. The highlight of our Bergen visit is the funicular rail trip, which we do at the urging of Phil and Sylvie. Another highlight is ‘Team Bride’ prancing down the streets of the city, with ‘Give Me Give Me a Man After Midnight Night’ blaring from a ghetto blaster.
SUNDAY, JUNE 4
Benjamin, our Italian/Norwegian guide, is hilarious as our coach driver skilfully negotiates mountain roads. There is so much snow on the higher points of what is known as the Eagle Road. Silver Dawn entered spectacular Geiranger Fjord this morning, passing a multitude of waterfalls, strengthened by the melting snow. After the coach trip we catch up with David and Cheryl Collins from Melbourne. David is president of the Essendon Bombers AFL Club’s Past Players’ Association, and is a favourite of our son-in-law, Greg Mariotto, who is a mad Bombers’ fan. David played first grade for Essendon back in the late 1960s, but Greg particularly likes him for his work with Bombers’ legend, Kevin Sheedy in setting up a program to help players develop skills away from football.
Greg Balgowan, a former teammate of mine at Murwillumbah Brothers, has died, aged 71. Greg and I played in the Group 18, Under-18 representative side against Group 1 at Murwillumbah Showgrounds in 1969. I played on the wing, while he was Group five eighth. We had a win, and claimed the Lascelles Trophy. The senior teams played for the Anthony Shield. The last time I saw Greg, was at a Brothers’ reunion in 2018.