15 January 2021
With Dad being a teacher and me still at school, holidays were at or around the same time each year. I was able to go to Belgium a couple of times on school trips, one year I managed to meet up with an uncle of mine and his wife, they lived in Antwerp. Another time I got to see the Atomium, which is near Brussels. I was probably told much of its history when I visited the place all those years ago, but after a bit of recent research, I re-learned that this Atomium was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, Expo 58. It is three hundred and thirty-five feet tall, it consists of nine stainless steel clad spheres which are each sixty feet in diameter and they are all connected, so that the whole structure forms the shape of a cell of an iron (ferrite) crystal, magnified a massive one hundred and sixty-five billion times! Tubes which are ten feet in diameter connect the spheres along the twelve edges of the cube and all eight vertices to the centre. They enclose stairs, escalators and an elevator (in the central, vertical tube) enabling access to the five habitable spheres which contain exhibit halls and other public spaces. The top sphere includes a restaurant which has a panoramic view of Brussels.
Time passed and by now I was at work with British Telecom, so I wasn’t having as many holidays, certainly not abroad. But a while later my parents, who were both now retired, went on holiday to Guernsey. The following year I went to the same place, staying in the same hotel that my parents had been to. It was just for a week, but I went on bus tours around the island as well as a boat trip to Sark. I also drank the local beer! One night the hotel owner, who also served behind the bar, advised me to stay sitting at the bar because a group of actors from the nearby theatre would be in quite soon. They arrived and promptly bought everyone drinks! It was strong beer and I ended up almost crawling up the stairs to my room! A couple of years later I went to Jersey for a week, all pleasant and friendly but I preferred my trip to Guernsey. Then it went quiet for me, holidays were spent at home for a while, I’m still not too sure why, but finance may have had its part to play in it! Then things all changed at work, I moved over to Leicester, I met and married Kate and we went down to Portugal a few times. We even spent our honeymoon there. But a while later we divorced and I’ve not been back since. Mixed memories, perhaps. Anyway, one year I drove over to Wales and had a lovely holiday touring round. Another year I did a tour of the Lake District and saw some amazing views. But all around there the weather could be changeable, in fact it could be sunshine in one valley and raining in the next. One time it just pelted down and I just had to stop the car as visibility was so bad!
But I had never been to America, so I decided to visit there. I called in to my local travel agent and booked myself a week in Philadelphia. I didn’t want New York, I felt it wouldn’t be for me and anyway, I had a friend living in Philadelphia. So I went and had a good time, I was very well treated. I met with my friend, she was delighted to see me. The hotel staff though were surprised at how relatively little I wanted to eat. They were wanting me to have absolutely loads of food, but I didn’t. I had all I wanted. A couple of years later I went again, this time I had a week in Washington DC, then a further week in Orlando, Florida. Whilst in Washington I had a guided tour around the White House, as well as a few other places. Then in Florida I went to the Space Centre and met one of the astronauts. I also got to see one of the launch pads. This was something I’d only ever seen on television, but now I was actually there. The other place I wanted to see was Disney World and so I did. In fact I went a few times, so I could see some of the different parks. It was lovely. I went on a ’Star Wars’ ride, it was as if I was Luke Skywalker, where I was destroying the Death Star – all very clever! It meant that I returned home with some great memories.
A few years later I saw an advertisement for The Cruise Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, where I could look around at what was on offer. I went, I liked what I saw and to this day I don’t know what made me try it but I booked myself onto a four-day ‘taster’ cruise by P&O on the cruise ship Arcadia. The itinerary was simple, to go from Southampton, over to Dunkirk, then along to Le Havre and return to Southampton. So off I went. I found life on board this cruise ship was relaxing as well as enjoyable. A mix of shops were there, they had a whole range of eating options, it really was a floating hotel. However, I found that the weather in the English Channel was not good. Not good at all. In fact the captain had to forego docking at Dunkirk because, as he put it, ‘we might get in, but the weather is so bad we might not get out for a day or two’. This meant that we were simply trundling up and down the English Channel in a force nine gale for a day and a night. Not everyone enjoyed it, but I did. My mother’s father had been at sea for much of his life, either the royal or merchant navy, so it has been said maybe I have at least some sea salt in my veins! I found that whenever the Arcadia turned during the night it rocked a little, but the rocking motion sent me back to sleep! As a result of that, I booked myself on a world cruise lasting one hundred days, which was starting early the following year. It meant that I would be celebrating my sixtieth birthday in Honolulu. Perhaps the hardest part was telling my dear Mum that I would be away for so long and why, as she and I were used to chatting regularly, once a week at least. So I sent her a copy of my itinerary and I learned later that she got to tell the other inmates in the Care Home she was in where I was each day. It gave them all something to talk about together.
This cruise was organised in a clever way. Some places we stopped at for just a day to see the sights, in others for two days. We went to a few places in South America, across to Australia and down to New Zealand, visiting a few islands on the way. Then back up to Hawaii, on to San Francisco, going a bit further down and through the Panama canal. After stopping off at Curaçao and then Barbados, Ponta Delgada was the final stop before Southampton. Altogether we stopped at thirty-two different places and I crossed the International Dateline twice! Whilst at sea there was as much or as little to do as each person wanted. Shows were put on each night, the entertainment was excellent, I joined a choir and sang in it for a while. Naturally I took loads of photographs! There was a mix of both couples and singles on board, I joined the ‘singles’ group and made a few friends. I still keep in touch with one or two of them. Also a ‘computer help’ group was started and my knowledge was very useful as I knew about both Windows and Apple computers. But I did try to remember that I was actually on holiday, not at work! It was a good holiday, I’m glad to have done it. The idea was to do things whilst I could. I hoped to have memories to look back on in later years, rather than be thinking ‘I wish I’d done that’.
In many ways I was remembering my dear Mum who, after Dad had passed away, started going on holidays. She visited relatives in South Africa, then one year she announced that she was going on holiday to Switzerland. So I asked her ‘why there’ and she promptly replied, “Your Dad promised he would take me there but he never managed to, so I’m going myself”. Then Mum found a lovely place in southern Spain. I went with her one year, it was lovely, we had time together but it was the last holiday she had before passing away a few years later at the grand age of ninety-five. I have no idea what other holidays are in store for me yet, we shall see what occurs!
We are slowly settling in to this new year, so having said about my cruise…
At one time, old warships were armed with cannons. To keep a good supply of iron cannon balls near each cannon, the balls were stored on a square based metal plate which was located next to each cannon. Each plate had 16 circular indentations for the balls to rest in, then more balls were stacked on top of each other in a 16, 9, 4, 1 pyramid format, meaning that thirty cannon balls could all be stacked together by each cannon. The metal base plate was was called a ‘monkey’. It was found that if the plate was made of iron, then the cannon balls could rust onto it, so the solution was to make the plate out of brass. Except that when temperatures drop, brass will contract faster and greater than iron. This meant that if the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would drop off the monkey.
Which meant it was, quite literally, “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.