A funny thing happened on the old QE2

August 17, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

PA photo

 

By

Hazel Speed

In my time, and for various contingencies, I have crossed the Atlantic by air and sea.

I have also sailed from Montreal to Tilbury Docks, on the Alexander Pushkin ship, (an unusual experience and rare for one to be able to mention in any party environment), and then sailed twice on the old QE2, once going to New York, en route to Toronto, and then some months later doing the return journey. On all these occasions I was travelling alone, but in those days I was in my early twenties and mid thirties respectively.

The story I wish to write about relates to the journey back from New York as it was quite a memorable event. The outgoing journey had its moments, rescuing a stranded fisherman off the coast of Newfoundland, whilst in the middle of an emergency life-jacket/life stations rehearsals and the cleric in charge of the religious service the following day wanted to seize that opportunity to rehearse some hymns. From my recollection I think he avoided the one we were all worried about which is associated with the sad event of the Titanic, especially as we were in the same waters and a seaman was in trouble, plus we had our life jackets on.

The outward journey was not the most pleasant as I suffer from sea-sickness (even on the QE2) and the odd day I could attend the dining room for meals the rest of the table, comprising of other English guests, were all with friends or partners and they left me out of things quite a lot. Even when we got to New York, the famous Statue of Liberty was covered in scaffolding for cleaning or repairs.

Leaving aside I could not get my trunks with all my clothes out of Bond from New York until about 5 or 6 months after arriving in Toronto, even with the help of the British Ambassador, I did enjoy the Amtrak train journey and a lot of other things. These are all for another article, if requested.

I want to concentrate on the return journey from New York to Southampton.

Once again, because I was travelling alone (and I might add the circumstances were of a sad personal nature), it was with delight that I was asked by the Dining Room Manager if I would not mind sharing a table with three elderly people, two ladies and one man. They were Americans.

I was also told they were most friendly and kind and would love an English person to join them. Needless to say, I was thrilled and accepted.

As soon as I was introduced and sitting down at the table for the first evening meal, they were opening a bottle of champagne. I cannot recall whether they said it was a special bottle which had been given to them or not, or whether they just ordered it, but they immediately asked me if I wanted a glass and join them.

 

Being ever cautious, first I asked if I had to pay the staff, etc, and they said “not at all, you are our guest.”

The two old ladies (and I write this as one myself now), were so much fun, educated, obviously more wealthy than myself, and the gentleman with them was exceptionally well-mannered, impeccably dressed, and they all put me at ease immediately. What a contrast I thought, if compared with my outward journey.

One of the older ladies had the same Christian name as myself. Synchronicity was in play in this whole situation as the chances of what happened during this sea journey will surprise you.

We had enjoyed sharing each other’s company at meal times, and would meet up at times during the day, either collectively, or bump into each other one or two people at a time.

I recall the other older lady was the life and soul of the party and had the name “Sunny” which is a typical American name or nick-name. She indeed had a sunny disposition and had a dry and wicked sense of humour. They asked a few questions about myself and initially I was very guarded in what I said, yet being polite and as forthcoming as the situation required.

One day, Sunny was late for lunch and the rest of us were anxious she was OK. Although at first none of us actually said the words, in the end she was so late, we all agreed she could have had a fall, a heart attack, or God-forbid, etc…

No sooner had we made the remark she bounced in late, no explanation, but her first words were “I bet you all thought I was dead in my cabin !” Naturally, we all immediately said “no, not at all,” etc.

Halfway across the Atlantic, the gentleman of the group told me who Sunny really was and that he had edified the librarian accordingly. What a game-changer that information was.

She began to speak about her work helping her brother who was a writer. Obviously the male colleague had informed her that I was now au fait.

Some of his manuscripts she would type for him. Then she touched on the subject of his sad death and the circumstances relating thereto.

When we docked at Southampton we all exchanged addresses and became pen friends for years though we never met up again. Sunny bought a red sports car and I could just imagine her dashing about town in that! She lived in one part of America in the winter and then stayed at another property in the States in the summer, as many Americans (at least in her social bracket) do.

I have some lovely photographs of us all together on the QE2 and will never forget that group of people. I was most touched one day to receive a letter from her Son saying sadly Sunny had passed away and he was going through her address book to notify all her friends. Given the fact of her notoriety and the fame of that particular family, I thought that was most kind and replied with appropriate appreciation of the sad notification and my happy memories of my days together with the group on the QE2. Eventually, correspondence with the other two of the original group decreased as again, age probably caught up with them both. I still have their letters.

Sunny told me she planned on writing a book about their family one day and I discovered she did succeed in doing so before she died, and I sought one out from the library after I heard she had died as I wasn’t sure if she had achieved that aim, but she had.

The sweet lady even had stamps of herself produced and gave me some of those. Not sure how they were viable but she assured me in the States they were, and I believed her.

So who was this special friend? To me they were all special, but this particular lady was Sunny Hemingway-Miller. Her late brother was none other than Ernest Hemingway. Sunny kept the name Hemingway when she married hence her surname of Hemingway-Miller. She told me of the help she gave her brother and typing up ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ in particular, but not exclusively.

 

My life has been enriched with synchronicity here and there and mostly through inadvertently crossing paths with celebrities of one sort or another, all through my life. I can talk freely regarding some experiences but others I cannot nor would I.

On the various Atlantic crossings I made (3) I met 4 celebrities who gave lectures/’audience with’, etc, on board the ship about their lives and I secured a photograph with each one. Ironically again, within synchronicity, one celebrity spoke about when he received his Knighthood and what the gentleman at the Palace said to him. I knew every word before he said it, as that gentleman had been my former superior. That made for a good opportunity to speak with the gentleman concerned. He was an English Actor whose work in films and theatre had been amazing. So once again, a huge privilege. The other two celebrities were famous American Actors of film and tv. One spoke about Gertrude Lawrence, and she was surprised when I asked her about Gertrude Lawrence because I was a young person. It so happened a few years earlier I attended the premier of the film, in Toronto, called “Star”, the life story of Gertrude Lawrence and the lead role was acted by (Dame) Julie Andrews, and (Sir) Bruce Forsythe portrayed Gertrude’s Father. Daniel Massey had co-starred with Julie Andrews as another friend.

I wanted to know what Gertrude was like as a person and it seems the film did her justice. Gertrude was the childhood friend of Sir Noel Coward so they often worked together on projects or he wrote especially at times for Gertrude. The Actress I spoke to on board the QE2 about Gertrude, gave a type of audience to anyone who wished to attend in the cinema/theatre part of the ship. She spoke of a little trick which I would never dare try. If that lady was going anywhere to speak because of her notoriety, she would announce it was her birthday two days later, even though it was not, knowing they would prepare a surprise birthday party for her as she loved parties. The trick was, she announced, to remember in what country you gave what birthdate, just in case you return.

I have also, conversely, found myself in office environments in the commercial sector (and legal) where I have worked opposite people of renown for the wrong reasons, thus seeing what they were really like by watching and learning. Some were planning a defence against serious crimes and seeing the evidence myself I had no doubt they were guilty, but I was just the hired help. I recall ringing home that day telling my Mother I had reached the dizzy depths as had spent the morning with etc…!

As if often the case in such matters, the public view on things was one I concurred with but could never say. How does it go, “You may think so, but I couldn’t possibly comment” (From House of Cards TV Series).

My own diverse projects have enjoyed the kindness of celebrity participation, and friendship for which I have always been grateful. But one should always remember, celebrity of any kind is a two-edged sword in business or within projects. One has to show respect and dignity to them for their time and interest in one’s work and endeavours, but in turn, they may require you to take a different route to your goals rather than proceed in the way a person may do so if a celebrity was not on board. I actually said that to a celebrity once, and although they did not like it, they understood my point. To represent oneself is one thing, but when you are, at the same time, representing a named celebrity, their reputation is at stake, therefore be cautious of situations if you are the messenger if things go wrong.

I was privileged to serve Her Majesty The Queen as an Official in The Royal Household for 11 years and that time is, of course, covered by The Official Secrets Act, but my memories of those days are also special and amazing.

We must seize such opportunities, whoever we are, and as my dear late Mother used to say “Anyone who is a somebody, will never make you feel like a nobody.”

I believe in synchronicity as it is always happening to me. When we landed at Southampton there was even a famous Member of The Royal Family there to collect another passenger. The press were in attendance so naturally Sunny and her friends joked with me “Are they here to talk to you?” Not that time.

My whole life has reaffirmed for myself, at least, even if others do not agree, that destiny has a hand and looking back one can see the reason for experiences even though the same was not apparent at the time.

Also on the journey on the QE2 I actually walked right by someone I knew but, as is often the case, because they were not expecting to see me on the same ship as themselves, they did not recognise me, so I did not say hello as they were with a group of people and all were walking in a hurry. It was one of the musicians I had known from the former Joe Loss Orchestra.

I thought the group jigsaw puzzle was an excellent idea where a huge jigsaw would be placed on a table in an open corridor and the aim was that anyone passing by could spend five minutes or so and try and find a piece of jigsaw to put into the picture.

My first go at Clay Pigeon Shooting was great fun too, as I knew there was nobody out front, in the ocean that I would be putting at risk, and no real pigeons. I managed to secure a few hits of the clay variety though and have a photograph for posterity.

My first casino visit was on board as every passenger was given a couple of free chips but I retained one as a souvenir (with permission of course). It was a bit strange visiting the cinema to watch a film when one could hear the vast engines of the ship beneath one’s feet via the subtle vibrations from below decks.

 

The atmosphere within the different restaurants was quite unique, of course, for all the meals throughout the day. One particular event I really loved, however, were the midnight suppers, i.e. anyone who happened to be staying up late walking around the ship could partake of the most wonderful mini feasts and again, the ambiance had a special feel about it. The closest I can come to describing it would be similar to the atmosphere portrayed in the James Bond movie – Casino Royale, where James Bond has won his important poker game and has gone into an empty restaurant with his companion to partake of a late supper. Some moments in life are truly special on various levels of mood, atmosphere, and ethereal or spiritual presence. One knows the difference if one encounters such situations. If sailing though, always remember the sailors’ motto – if you want to avoid sea sickness, sit under a tree! (i.e. don’t sail).

So never give up hope, we have no idea what nice things and nice people are waiting to cross paths with us. Remember every moment.

Here’s to you, Sunny, and your two travelling companions, ‘thank you’ for entering my life when you did and I will never forget any of you. I raise a glass of champagne in your honour –  Cheers…!

 

 

 

Sunny’s Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hazel Speed

Photo (c) Hazel Speed – used by kind permision to Tuck Magazine

Hazel Speed is a Philosopher, Writer, and Artist with various creative projects at differing states of development. Her flaship project is an animation which has produced a film short: www.thepinkprofessor.com.

Art sites: www.candystoreart.comwww.terrificart.comwww.artbadges.co.uk.

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