You will remember that I paid a visit to the ‘Ariadne’ to have a look at the ship before booking my passage. The ship was magnificent. This was to be a long cruise, which would pick up and drop off passengers at points of convenience (for the passengers) that is. There was still plenty of cabins available, and I had picked one of the best. It was on the upper passenger deck, on the starboard side, that is the right hand side, and would offer me more sunlight. We would be travelling predominantly east to start with. And so we set sail from Southampton.
The cabin has a large lounge with radio, television, etc. A decent sized bedroom, which is most necessary for a long stay. A nice spacious bathroom, and a lovely picture window which opened on to my private balcony. This was to be cruising with style.
This bit is amazing---whilst walking round the ship trying to get to know where things are located I saw a face that looked familiar to me. When I approached the guy who was obviously a member of the crew, we recognised each other immediately. Graham Hurt had been a registrar at a general hospital where I frequently worked. I got to know Graham because we had both been runners, and had met whilst running round the hospital grounds at lunch times. He knew I was a medical engineer, and he approached me one day to ask for a little help with a physics exam that he was due to sit. His problem was with quantum noise in ‘Image Intensifier’ systems. I was able to help Graham, and he later told me that of the three questions in his exam there was one on Quantum physics that carried 60% of the marks. He passed with ease and became a consultant radiologist. Graham and I became good friends, went running together, joined the same running club, and ran many races together at all distances up to marathons. He told me that after twenty years hospital work, he applied for and got a position as medical officer on a cruise ship. He had only recently joined the Ariadne. This was a great start for me, knowing I had at least one friend on board ship.
I was not going by my real name on the ship and had to explain this straight away to Graham. I had chosen ‘Alex Stern’ as my on board name. There were a few reasons for this---the main one being I wanted to keep my identity under wraps, at least for the present time. The ship has a large computer suite, and it seems people are not slow to Google others names to check on backgrounds and status etc. It would not have been difficult for anybody to find out my life history from web-site, links etc. I didn’t want this at this stage. I would see how things progressed. Graham understood and promised me he wouldn’t slip up.
Our first port of call was to be Athens, we were picking up provisions there. Because of the wintry weather and the need to get to warmer climes quickly, the captain put his foot down and although it was a little rough we zoomed across the Bay of Biscay without any problems. The ship seemed to be well stabilised. We did a sharp left and virtually skidded round the corner into the Straight of Gibraltar and into the Med. I used this time to start writing the first notes of my intended book.
We passed by the bottom of Sardinia, and then eased between the gap of the George Cross Island of Malta and Sicily, then on to Athens. I decided that I would stay on board at Athens, I was hoping that I could meet up with some friends here at a later date, when the weather was better. We would in fact be cruising the Mediterranean later on during our world cruise, but in warmer temperatures.
If anyone read my poem about ‘Ariadne’ you will remember the etymology---So pure and very pleasing. This was how the ship turned out to be. The passengers are mostly knocking on a bit, mostly couples but there are quite a few single ladies, not all old either. I got the impression that they were mostly well heeled. I think I am the only single male on board. I was a little surprised therefore to find myself invited to the captain's table for dinner on the first night. This is regarded as quite an honour apparently. The idea seems to be that all the passengers get a chance to dine with the captain at some time. Maybe they took pity on me because I was a lone passenger, or maybe Graham had pulled some strings.
The captain name is Andreas Tictopolous; His parents were apparently in the diplomatic service. Andreas was born in England. He joined the Royal Navy and ended up as the captain of a destroyer. He used the name Andy Topol whilst in the navy, I think for convenience. After thirty years he left the Royal Navy and joined the cruise lines, and ended up as captain of the Ariadne. Andreas was always called Captain by everyone.
The conversation over dinner was quite stimulating. The captain always tries to be present for the evening meal; other officers rotate depending on duties. They all seem decent types. There is usually about five crew and six or seven passengers at the captains table. Dinner starts at seven and takes about three hours, all very leisurely. Conversations it seems are lubricated frequently by a nice assortment of drinks.
Our debate after dining resulted from someone mentioning the problems in Iraq. Looking around it was clear there was probably people of different religions present. Now I am always very careful about being drawn into such debates, but this proceeded quite well.
It was Graham who livened the debate up when he asked what we thought of Einstein famous equation. He suggested that if energy creates mass or matter as Einstein stated, and mass can create energy, where then did the energy come from that created the so-called big bang. This after dinner debate was superb. No attacks on religion, no profanities or blasphemies, no bad language. Just sensible discussion with consideration for other peoples views. Some one mentioned that Einstein’s theory went on to be the catalyst for the Atom bomb. Nuclear fission, and fusion being the result. Einstein apparently wrote to the American president to warn him of the possibility of Germany developing the Bomb first. This resulted was the creation of the A-bomb by the Americans and it being dropped on Japan. Einstein it seemed believed in God, and was appalled at what had been created with his formula.
First thing in the mornings I have been having an hour in the fitness room. I was delighted to find Graham there and he is clearly still a very fit guy. I did twenty minutes exercise with light-weights. Twenty minutes on the running machine, and twenty minutes on the cycling machine. This was followed by a nice shower and a massage by a lovely young lady, very civilised indeed. I took breakfast in my cabin, sometimes I had the ‘Monty’, sometimes just cereal and tea; I have been assigned a gentleman to look after my needs and see to my room.
We had taken on all the ‘Vittles’ necessary for now, and left Athens and headed for Port Sa-id and the Suez Canal. You may or may not know that Verdi wrote the opera ‘Aida’ to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal. Aida is one of my favourite operas, and I always find the Grand March particularly moving---it stirs memories from my youth.
I remember with fondness ‘Children’s Day’ which was an annual event in my city. There used to be a hundred thousand people turn out for this event---all sat round the magnificent natural arena in our wonderful park. They were ferried from all parts of the city by tramcars. There were athletic events, various displays, and the Children’s parade with the chosen queen from all the city's schools in the lead. Later there was all the fun of the fair. The ‘Grand March’. from Aida was played during the parade round the arena by the children. That was where I first heard this wonderful music as a young child. (I have been warned about being nostalgic---but what the hell, how I remember those carefree-happy days of my youth).
And that is why I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, as we gently eased into the Suez canal at Port Sa-id, with the wonderful march by Verdi floating over this beautiful boat…
PS. The above are only notes, because I was requested to keep you posted about my travels.
If you require the detailed version you will have to wait for the book;
That’s if I ever finish it---