Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bill Miller News

Friends are one of the main dimensions on everyday's life and Bill Miller has been a very special friend for many years now. He has been able to share his fantastic knowledge on ships and his books are popular and internationally accepted by all kinds of ship enthusiasts. Bill sends regularly his day by day memories while on board his ships, the great ships he sails and lectures on, the great ships he writes...
Here it is the lates Bill Miller writings registered on the QM2... (LMC). Front cover of one of his newest books now on the final stage of production.
Tue Jan 3rd Red Hook/Brooklyn: Sparkling lights! Evening departure on the Queen Mary 2, always a favorite ship. Otherwise, a rather unusual wintertime eastbound crossing to Southampton, England, but which is actually part of the ship’s 3-month cruise around-the-world. I disembark in England, after 7 days, and then the recently refitted, upgraded, 2,600-bed Queen heads for warmer waters, to South Africa, the Indian Ocean & beyond. She’s just about full-up on this crossing, by the way, and that includes 280 full world cruisers (another 100 are joining at Sydney after crossing over from the Queen Elizabeth). There are 700 passengers in transit from the prior Holiday Caribbean cruise & 1,800 boarding today. Lots of friendly & familiar faces onboard as always (including Tom Cassidy, Mitchell Mart, .Tom Michel from Lincoln Center, Ernie Raab, singer Dale Christian & others too numerous to mention). Otherwise, good to settle-in onboard & enjoy the pleasures and sheer comfort of this wonderful ship. 
Wed Jan 4th Atlantic Ocean: At the podium! There are 5 speakers onboard including an Arabist (that’s a specialist on all things Arab), an adventurer (tales of dangerous trekking around the Arctic, Antarctic, etc) and General the Lord Dannatt, (the former head of Britain’s Royal Army & Constable of the Tower of London these days and yes, the Crown Jewels are kept there & so he is appointed personally by the Queen!). Otherwise, at dinner, Des & I have a cozy table for two, but in the center of the otherwise soaring Britannia Restaurant & so great fun (including the good advantage of watching all the other passengers come & go).
Thu Jan 5th Atlantic Ocean: Bet you didn’t know? Bell bottom trousers were a huge hit in the 1960s & ‘70s, but actually date from the early 1800s. Sailors wore them & so they could be more easily rolled-up (mostly to the knees) when washing the decks. They had, it was said, an added purpose: when washed overboard or abandoning ship, they could be used as a life preserver by knotting the legs.
Memory lane! Now retired, Gerald grew up & lived for many years in that most charming of charming cities: San Francisco. “I always loved ocean liners, collected things from them & of course always dreamed of sailing in them,” he told me. “But in the 1960s, I was still at school & money was tight. So I did short trips, sometimes very short trips. Once, I sailed on the famous Lurline, going just overnight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The airfare was then $13, but the ship cost $45. But it was well worth of it. I also took some of the big P&O liners that called at San Francisco, ships such as the Canberra, Oriana, Oronsay & Arcadia. I would sail for 2 days up to Vancouver or the reverse, and the fare, well down in bottom-deck tourist class quad, was about $25. I savored every minute on these ships & stood up on the open decks, counting the stars, feeling the sea breezes & staying until midnight. It really didn’t matter about the food & service, but it was about the total experience --- being on the ship, moving, that feel of the vibrating engines.”
News desk! I used to buy lots & lots of film, yellow colored rolls with names like Kodachrome & Ektachrome. It was such fun taking 35mm slides with my Honeywell-Pentex camera & to this day I have a collection of, well, maybe 25,000. But changing times --- today, I read that Kodak, the General Motors of American film, is filing for bankruptcy. Who would have thought! Later, by coincidence, I run into Mary Ann from Rochester, home of Kodak. She said: I did 37 years with Kodak & so I had tears in my eyes when I read of the bankruptcy. It should never have happened. I’m just heartbroken. 
Eastern brocade! Dinner with Charlotte & friends tonight (she’s a NY-based artist & longtime plotter & planner at the UN) at her big, round table. She is pure charm, very open & of course very friendly. But she’s a study too: a grand dress in multi-colored brocade (mostly reds & greens & then some gold) and all very of Queen of Afghanistan. There’s the matching jewelry --- big & lavish & very Indian maharaja . And the total effect capped with by a silvery fastener, a twisted mix that resembles, say, more simplistic Tibetan or at least something from that East Asian neighborhood. 
Musical high notes: Great new show tonight dubbed Hit Me With A Hot Note --- a very spirited, high energy review from the Cotton Club & Duke Ellington to Motown & Earth, Wind and Fire.
Fri Jan 6th the North Atlantic: Moody day: drizzly rain, wet outer decks, old dears huddled in the lounges but a few sturdy souls (they must be Germans!) do laps around the massive promenade. It is “floating university” today with 4 speakers. I kick-off at 9:45 this morning (a very good crowd considering we advanced the clock & lost an hour last night) while the other topics are US/UK relations, Sun, Sea, Sand & Spies that includes the likes of Lawrence of Arabia & then adventurous tales of sledding in the frozen Arctic. Lots of very nice, often very interesting comments (and as always) from the guests. But a sturdy old Englishman tells me: For an American, for someone from “across the Pond,” you seem to know an awful lot about British ships & even British history. Quite strange really. Another chap, also British, but more firmly notes: Cunard, Cunard, Cunard. Why is everything about Cunard. Their reputation is inflated, over-stated & they really weren’t all that important. And after all, the North Atlantic is really quite a miserable run. (Later, I uncover that he sailed, for 25 years, for another British passenger line, Union-Castle, and which sailed on the sun-filled African trades, and so his loyalties.)
Mail under the door! A guest from New Canaan, Connecticut thoughtfully writes a note: I hope that your voyage is going well and, for me, your lectures are a highlight ... Your clear, crisp, Kennedy-ish voice certainly resonates throughout that theatre when you speak!!! I really do LOVE the sound of you when you talk!!! It's very "musical" !!! Your poise at the podium is a sight to behold ... the dark blue blazer, the red socks, sometimes even red shoes ... and, might I add, flashing, light-catching rings of what seems to be, from my seat high above, at least “a few thousand diamonds”.
Chinese stir-fry! Lunch with a well-spoken, but retired former airline pilot (from British Airways & later, with more pride on his part, with Cathay Pacific) who wants to become a shipboard speaker, “break into the business” as he puts it. Cunard, he says, has “kept me waiting” for 2 years. 
Curtain up! Showtime tonight with the superb Dale Kristien, a longtime friend from Crystal, but now on one of her first stints with Cunard. Dale has a record or two under her vast red gown: she played Christine in Phantom of the Opera for 4 ½ years (or 1,700 performances & including ones with Michael Crawford). She also did 2 years (as the not-to-be-trusted maid) on the TV soap Days of Our Lives and I still chuckle when recalling her summation: Sometimes I was the good maid & sometimes I wasn’t. Sometimes I answered the door & sometimes I didn’t.
Sat Jan 7th the North Atlantic: French colonial: A nice breakfast chat with Nancy, an American on her first Atlantic crossing in almost 50 years. She informs me: I did those summers in Europe, as lots of us did in those days, and crossed (in the early ‘60s) on the Flandre, United States & Constitution. But I also did 2 years in Peace Corps & was based mostly in Morocco. Once, we also did a trip along the hump of Africa, to Senegal & Liberia, and we sailed in fourth class on an old French ship (we later play the “memory game” and she remembers it was named the Foch). We sailed down in fourth class, slept on deck & under canvas tarps and were given portable mats (for sleeping) that were filled with straw. It was pretty grim but all we could afford. The food was mostly evil --- vile coffee, hard bread & animals cooked in entirety including heads & legs. My friend & I were the only Americans and we ‘felt’ what seemed to be a thousand Moroccan eyes staring at us & all at the same time. Everyone was crammed together, hundreds in all & of course the ship was quite small [only 9,000 tons for 700 passengers plus freight and above, there were first, second & third class quarters and each with descending comfort & amenities as passage fares lessened]. The Moroccan men sat cross-legged in their long white robes & mostly smoked very pungent cigarettes. By night, the deck lights were dim. It was all like some scene in a back alley in Marrakesh. Fortunately, the seas were calm. But a French man, a ship’s junior officer in an open-shirt (it was very, very warm onboard) and white pants, appeared & suggested that my friend & I sleep in a rope locker, which was an open-air area but large enough for the pair of us. It was separated from the deck & of course all those Moroccans. He hinted that it might be best, especially during the night. Daytime, he inferred, was far less worrisome. I think I was on that ship for 2 or 3 days, but it seemed longer. Looking back, and in the golden glow of youth, it all seems like a part of an exciting time. Of course, working for the Peace Corps in Northwest Africa wasn’t life at the Ritz. 
The good silver at lunch: Tom Cassidy has thoughtfully invited us for drinks (at noon) in the Queens Grill Lounge & then arranged a six-star lunch in the ultra-fancy Todd English Grill. Very nice guest list that includes Bob Crimmins (who collects vintage Cadillac’s back in New Jersey), the vivacious Shirley (who lives & was a dancer in London, on the Isle of Wight & also cruises the world) & 87-yr old Shaw Taylor (an actor who studied with Joan Collins & later starred in the British TV series Police Five & others).
Pass the peanuts! Later in the day, with just hours in between, Tom kindly hosts a drinks party (as the British guests would call it) & so a nice mix, chatter, etc. Very kindly, he does it at 5:30, just before the early round of dinner. He notes: Bill is obsessed with first sitting!
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