We’d started in Hull, headed across the Atlantic to the Panama Canal, through the Pacific to Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Britain, the Solomon Islands and finally Papua New Guinea. Leaving PNG we continued west – across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, and finally back to the European Coast. All the way round.
My first husband was in the Merchant Navy, and I sailed with him after we were married – four trips in three years.
We were heading for Hamburg – but the big question was, would we make it back in time for Christmas? And even if we did, would we be paid off in time, or would they keep us on board until afterwards? Afterall, if they paid us off, it would mean another crew coming out just before Christmas, at short notice. It kind of made sense to keep us on board and bring the new crew out later – but hope springs eternal.
We got the Christmas decorations out. They were shiny plastic ones, picked up a couple of years previously when the ship had been in Japan. Us Brits had only ever had tissue-paper ones before – do you remember them? The new ones were so bright and shiny – this was definitely the way to go. Ah well – they’re probably all disintegrating into micro-plastics right now. I wonder what happened to all those old tissue-paper garlands we used to have?
We discovered that there was no tree. No tree!! Baubles yes, but no tree.
I channeled my inner Valerie Singleton and went round all the cabins, asking for donations of unused wire coat hangers. Then, in best Blue Peter fashion, I fastened them together and covered them in tinsel. We fixed the top of the tree to the deckhead in the bar, where it swung gently to and fro when the ship rolled. It looked both festive and slightly drunk, which was probably appropriate.
We were halfway through the Med at this point, the weather was turning decidedly nippy. The steamy heat had gone on – always a major decision, to go from cooling the air to warming it. And always people would come down with colds when the change was made, so it would be put off for as long as possible. And we still didn’t know if we’d be home for Christmas. There were rumours, and rumours of rumours. They were going to keep us on. They were going to pay us off. In the end, as with all rumours, one of them turned out to be true.
They flew us home on 23rd December.
Well, when I say ‘home’… They flew us to London. We were living in Devon at the time, but both sets of parents lived in Sheffield, so London wasn’t exactly close to anywhere that we could call ‘home’. We decided to head for Sheffield, even though they weren’t expecting us. We found a phone box (this was 1980 – no mobiles) and told them we were on our way. They seemed quite pleased.
My lovely Dad had worked out that we could get the night train from St Pancras and be up in Sheffield by four in the morning. And there he was, waiting for us. We went straight to bed. Then we went Christmas shopping.
We hadn’t expected to be in the country, so we had no presents to give anyone. It was fun, heading into the city, doing our ‘last minute’ Christmas shopping (and getting some bargains), coming home on the bus laden down with bags.
And feeling just a little bit sorry for the poor sods who had had to join the ship at 24 hours’ notice, two days before Christmas.
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