My Father In Reflection
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
My Sister says l don’t care about my Father and the fact that he is now dead. This isn’t true, two days ago was the date of the second month of his passing. Jenny had a very different relationship with my Father, mostly financial. Dad looked after her to the point of spoiling her horribly because she had children, whereas l do not. My relationship with my Father was strained because of the fact that he dedicated so much time to my Sister, but l didn’t not love the man, l didn’t hate him, l just didn’t like him all the time, and our relationship as Father and Son was at its best when we were not in close proximity to each other.
The saddest part of his death this year, is that today Suze and l were going to drive him to London so he could get a flight to take him into Holland l believe and he was going to take a 4 week cruise around the world stopping in many locations, and l was genuinely thrilled for him. I thought that maybe he might meet someone, and that in his elderly years that he may find a companionship, something to give him something to look forwards to instead of nothing.
But he developed an aggressive cancer in May, and it killed him in October. In five months, it took away that dream he had of a great cruise. That saddens me, more than many may realise, certainly more than my Sister realises. He could have gone on more adventures but he helped her all the time. Ok, his choice, but l get a little angry at my so called Sister’s supposed grief.
I may not show grief like everyone else, and l at my own concession didn’t feel a lot of grief, but it didn’t mean that l didn’t care for him, it just meant that he and l were not as close as Jenny and he were. Yet, l hear nothing from her about his lost trip. She knew the dates as much as l did. So yes the 18th perhaps l didn’t feel anything, but l do today – because it could’ve meant something new for him.
I feel that perhaps had he have gone, it may have been his last great adventure.
I enjoy cruising. In my long life I have been on four ocean cruises. In 1965 there was a five week long voyage out to Australia on the SS Fairsky, or it may have been the Fairstar. Either way, it was enjoyable, an Italian vessel, converted from a British troopship of the Second World War.
We, my wife, baby son and I were ten pound Poms and located below the waterline on Deck E. Some things are best not thought about. There were not many ports of call and no guided tours ashore.
We stopped at Egypt which was very foreign and very exciting. There was, on offer, a trip to see the Pyramids, but we decided we could not afford it and did not take it up. The next stop was Aden, in the days when it was a British Colony. It was even more exciting and apparently dangerous. We bought a record player there.
The penultimate stop was Freemantle in Western Australia. We were delighted to go ashore if only in the hope of getting a decent cup of tea. The Italians didn’t have a clue when it came to tea. We achieved our objective, however. And then we reached Melbourne, our last stop where we disembarked, before the ship ploughed its way to Sydney.
Twelve years later we completed our circumnavigation of the globe, returning to the UK in some style, and in more comfort, I daresay, than Sir Francis Drake, aboard the SS Australis. This time we had a comfortable cabin above the waterline, with portholes! This time, also, we had more stops with splendid trips ashore; Auckland; Tahiti, Panama Canal, Curaçao and Puerto Rico. Our final stops were in Vigo in Spain and dear old Southampton.
Our little group now totalled four; my son Rory aged 13, Australian born daughter, Jenny was eight and of course my wife, Margaret . By this time we were financially fairly well off.
The two further cruises I went on by myself about fifteen years ago. The first was to the Caribbean, among all those lovely West Indian Islands. The second was altogether a chillier affair. This time I visited Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Magic!
I enjoyed cruising because it gives a sense of freedom, of non-dependence on the world outside. Yes, a false feeling for sure, especially in these days of digital communications, but go with me with my dream.
A few years ago I discovered river cruising. I am not completely sure what attracted me to river cruising, but it may have been the clever television advertising done by Viking Cruises. The prospect of exploring the Danube, the Elbe or the Rhine without changing hotels every second day appealed. In the event, I was not disappointed.
I have now been on three river cruises. The first was very good, the second better and the third was, well, a bit of a disappointment. The first in 2015 was with Ama Waterways from Budapest along the Danube to just short of the Black Sea. This added two new countries to my growing collection; Serbia and Romania. Because I arrived late, fifteen minutes before the boat departed, I saw little of Budapest, apart from a night time sail past. This was down to BA and not my fault. The practice of overbooking flights as a matter of policy is fine, except when one is affected by it.
It was very interesting and enjoyable. To my surprise, the vast majority of passengers were Aussies or Kiwis. As we had the World Cup rugby going on at the time this led to many friendly arguments. As I had lived in Australia for twelve years, I was inevitably dragged in.
To my surprise, remembering its Communist history, Bucharest was a very pleasant and interesting city. Its airport was easy to use and I flew home, a happy bunny.
The following in year, 2016, I booked a cruise on the Elbe from Prague to Berlin. Sadly, it did not happen because of low water levels in the Elbe. The cruise was cancelled five days before the scheduled off. Instead I accepted a substitute offer to ride the Danube again, this time from Nuremberg to Budapest. As the offer was made at half price of the actual fare, I was unable to refuse.
This was with Viking, a superb organisation. This time the huge majority of passengers were from the US. As the US Presidential election was going on in the USA, it was an interesting time to mix it with the Americans. Each riverboat can carry about 150 to 160 passengers.
After a great trip along the peaceful river, I got my chance to really see Budapest, in the daylight hours.
And so we come to 2017 when the wheels came off.
I had booked a Rhine cruise from Basel in Switzerland to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Before I left home I had become aware of stiffness in my neck, like a muscular strain. Being of the masculine persuasion, I ignored it, being confident it would get better. As we cruised through the lower Rhine, slipping in and out of France, it became obvious that it was not getting better, but worse.
We visited Colmar where the US 3rd Division had fought their way over the Rhine in a series of bloody battles. It was here that Audie Murphy, a simple country boy from the mid-west, had become the most decorated soldier in US history. The older among us may remember the film “To hell and back” based on his autobiography, in which he played himself. I watched the film on TV a few weeks back.
By the time we reached Koblenz I was unable to lift my head off my chest. This was a reoccurrence of Myasthenia Gravas, a neurological condition which hospitalised me over Christmas 2014. I had left the ship in Koblenz to visit the magnificent 19th Century fortress which was built to protect the town. I managed it, but it was agony and on the cable car coming down I knew my holiday was over.
The last three days of the river trip were spent on board, sitting down and looking out the window. I could function in that way. Eventually there was a nightmare period at Schiphol and Heathrow before my return to Blighty. In the ten and a half weeks since my return, I have been back in St George’s Hospital and recovering slowly. Lesson to be learned. Carpe diem. Take your chances when you can, because you never know.
Written by my Father B.M