By the time you had scrambled all over the engine room it was getting late in the afternoon so of course it was time for tea. Despite having eaten huge meals all day and done precious little exercise, many of the passengers, including me, found myself either in the main or sun lounges hanging around for that moment where pots of tea and coffee were presented. A cup of tea did no harm, of course, but they would lay out a couple of plates of sandwiches, biscuits and cake. One small cake would be OK, and it would be rude not to sample the butties. And when you go back for another top up of tea, why not accompany it with a Bourbon?
Couple of hours more to dinner time. What to do? I tried to work. It could be a bit lonely stuck in the cabin so I often would find a quiet corner of the main lounge. Trouble was that almost everyone who came in there would want to exchange a few words. Eventually I got too tired of trying to do anything. There would be time for work once we got on to St Helena.
Dinner time would roll round again and more amazing choices would come out of the galley. I did get a couple of nights on the Captain’s table, but more often than that I was on the junior officers tables. When I travelled alone they made sure I was in the company of the crew’s table; they never seemed to worry so much when Edsel was with me. The crew did their best to entertain but you could see for some of them it was awkward. The Chief Engineer was with me a couple of times; very nice chap but he managed to get through his “where do you come from and what do you do” interrogation before the soups were served and from then on unless it was something about greasing cogs or fixing pipes he did not find it easy to engage. The purser staff were of course, far more used to entertaining and the kindest was Geoff Shallcross. On my way back to Ascension Island for the first time, I was privileged to be on Geoff’s final voyage. From Ascension Island they were heading back to the UK where he would disembark at Portland for the last time and retire to his home in North Devon.
He was born to the Purser’s job – he did it with incredible but hidden efficiency and for most of the time he just looked like he was having fun and inviting you to join in. For the tourists and first timers like me, he had a huge warmth. With the Saints he loved them like they were his family. Which indeed they were. He had spent over twenty years sailing to and from the island, and had seen generations of Saints be born, grow up, marry, have kids and, I suppose, die. He knew all their back stories, their nicknames, their foibles. He would joke with them; sometimes you saw him in a corner with a little old lady and they would be quietly reminiscing, maybe even being sad together at the loss of another dear friend.
And he had the most wicked sense of humour. On my last night back to Ascension I had joined him on his table in the dining room and we were bantering back and forth like two school kids; he then invited everyone upstairs for coffee in the main lounge and the usual port and brandy. The chat went on for several hours and it felt not like you were being supervised by a crew member, but having spent the perfect evening with your best friend.