Chatting with someone yesterday about cruises, ship cruises, and it’s spurred me to remember all the cruises I’ve taken. There have been quite a few going back a long way.
April 1974: a first for everything; first cruise, first time out of the country, first passport, first encounter with a casino, on-board. It was a trip from Fremantle to Singapore on the way to the UK by “ship-jet” with my friend Geoff.
Wow, what a trip!! It lives in my memory forever. The gentle rocking motion of the ship, the Eastern Queen. The gradually increasing temperatures as we headed north. The flying fish in the sea. The passage through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra.
The 10c cans of beer, all Swan Lager or VB, I think, but at 10c who cared. The casino on one of the upper decks. I’d never been in one before, never played any games, but I took to roulette, where the bets were only 20c. I seemed to be able to play it and at the end of the cruise I was $20 in front, which was quite a lot of money then.
Then the arrival at Singapore. It was at dawn and I got up and went on deck while it was still cool and hazy, before the sun rose.
Notice the absence of skyscrapers? Singapore was still a small city then, before the massive developments.
When Geoff and I arrived we were allocated to a hotel, but it turned out to be the Ambassador Hotel in Katong, well east of the city centre and requiring taxi transport to anywhere. Never mind, the taxis were dirt cheap, it had a beaut pool and a cafe that served cheap meals. It was my first experience of everything, including the real Asian food and my first taste of coriander leaves as a garnish, and I didn’t like it at all. I do now.
Somehow Geoff and I teamed up with two rather nice girls from Perth, Sue and Gabriel and we met up in the shopping areas, which had much more of a Chinatown feel than the glass and stainless steel malls today. Geoff and I both bought our first serious cameras, SLRs. Geoff bought a Minolta SRT-101 with 50mm f1.4 lens, complete with the black leather “ever-ready” case they came in in those days.
I bought a Konica Autoreflex T3 with 50mm f1.7 lens, also complete with case. The body was serial number 586755 and the lens was serial number 762730. I memorised them then in case of theft and they’re imprinted on my mind forever.
A day or so later we went to Change Alley, a narrow crowded lane with shops either side. I’d been given a camera bag as a parting gift when I left Channel 7 to go on this trip and I bought two extra lenses for the Konica, a 28mm f2.8 and a 135mm f2.8, both Vivitar brand. There were no zooms in those days. They were good choices and I took some nice pictures with them. Unfortunately I used Agfa CT18 film for the whole trip and over the next 20 years or so it slowly faded to purple as you can see in the top shot above.
Then a day or so later it was time for our flight to London. I was a bit disturbed, though, when Geoff and I were put on different airlines. I was allocated to Czechoslovakian Airways. Ugh. I was a bit nervous. First time in an aircraft and it was a Communist aircraft. It turned out to be a Boeing 727 and Gabriel and I were teamed up to sit together. It was a night flight and flying away from the sun it was a long night. I still have the little notebook I carried with Gabriel’s stick figure drawings and spelling-bee words to pass the time.
We stopped in Abu Dhabi or somewhere to refuel (the airport was nothing at all like it is now) and Gabriel alarmed me by being very slow to emerge from the Ladies to get back on the bus to rejoin the flight. I considered going in to find her. I was a nervous Nelly then.
After we took off, morning dawned and we were served a Czech breakfast, which included white sausage, something new to me. Everything was! As we took off, a lot of passengers became alarmed, as I was, by what looked like white smoke coming from the air vents near the floor. It was just water vapour, of course.
After another long flight we landed in Prague (Czech Airlines, remember) for another stopover of a few hours and a change of planes, I think.
Then It was off to London Heathrow, arriving late morning. My first step into the UK. Somehow Geoff and I met up again and said goodbye to Sue and Gabriel, then set about getting a taxi to our booked hotel in Brixton?? south of the river. I clearly remember this was the first time I’d been in a country where tipping was required. We got a black cab and when I paid the fare I hesitated and made a comment about not having any English money, which was true. He said “Well mate, we’re not likely to meet up again, are we?” I was embarrassed and confused and pressed an Aussie 20c piece into his hand. I bet he had a good laugh over that.
This was my first experience of jet-lag too. I remember carrying my heavy suitcase up the stairs (I was 27 and reasonably fit then) to our dorm room on about the third floor and partly unpacking, then thinking I’ll just have a lie down at about 2pm. Next thing I knew it was 6.30pm and I was freezing. What happened there?
Anyway, that will have to end this part of the story for now or I’ll never get on to the next ship cruise.
December 1974: I had been living in London all year since April, with several trips to the Continent (as it was called then), first the Autotours Europe 6 week trip. There was a two or three week gap after our arrival in Britain so Geoff and I hired a Ford Escort van and did a quick tour of Britain, starting in London, going south to Land’s End in Cornwall, then heading north through Wales (now I know why NSW is called that), right up through the Midlands to Scotland, not quite to John o’Groats but close, then down the east side to London again, Earl’s Court in fact, the Aquarius Hotel.
The six week Autotour was one of the highlights of my life. I remember so much of it and made friendships that lasted decades, although we’ve lost contact now.
Anyway, back to the topic. After more tours and the great thrill of living in a flat in Chelsea (in Camera Place, of all names), by November it was getting too dark and cold and I wanted to get home, so I booked the same ship-jet in reverse, flying from London to Singapore with a for or five day stopover, then taking the Eastern Queen again to Fremantle. Geoff had stayed on in London and I was alone this time, which took the edge off things, but it was OK. However, what I hadn’t reckoned on was the slowness of the ship journey. I just wanted to be home and the voyage just dragged! I was convinced the ship was deliberately going slow, dawdling, to keep to some timetable. It felt as if we were dead in the water. I’m sure we weren’t, but I learnt my lesson from that, fly back, don’t take the ship.
So that was my second cruise.
May 1977: I had the travel bug now and booked a fly-cruise, flying from Perth to Sydney and catching the original P&O Arcadia for an 11 day (I think) cruise around the Pacific Islands.
First stop Noumea, New Caledonia, then Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, then Port Vila, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), then Suva, Fiji, round the coast to Lautoka, then back to Sydney.
The ship, a BIG one, was fine although having to sleep in an iron framed bunk bed with several other guys in the shared cabin and having to go down the passage to the bathroom, all green painted steel floor and walls, with cockroaches on the floor was not so great. But the food! Holy smoke, every meal was a banquet. I’d never had food like that before. No limit, all you can eat.
I had asked to be seated with some ladies and so I was placed on a table of four with three young women. Wow, I became the favourite guy there. Two were from Sydney, Louise and “Tamia”, actually Cheryl, and the best, the one I fell for, Carol from Brisbane. She was Eurasian, beautiful, coffee coloured, long silky black hair. But she had a boyfriend back in Brizzy and although we talked a lot, that was it. “In Fond Memories, to Peter”. Wow. If only.
I can still picture all their faces. Unfortunately I lost a lot of photos of that trip in the big disk crash of 2013.
So that was cruise number three. I’d better wrap here otherwise I’ll never finish. I have three or four more cruises to write about.
Nothing much to report. Beautiful day. If you have to be locked up, is there a better place to be? Well, maybe one or two but this is nice.