Friday, 5 December 2008
Ambitions realised 3
Michael had always wanted to go to sea. Being a fastidious boy, he sent off formal letters of enquiry to the Royal Navy, Merchant Marine and Seaman’s Union. Within days he discovered that a life on the Ocean wave was not as accessible as he had hoped.
The Navy wanted qualifications that were beyond him, the Merchant Marine was much reduced and swamped with cheap labour from the Philippines, Russia and other cash-strapped countries.
The Seaman’s Union was over-subscribed and politely discouraging. Michael ruled out Piracy – he didn’t know any pirates and his dad was a Methodist. Instead he implemented Plan B.
He enrolled in catering college and learned to cook Sole Meunière in bulk. After which he applied to a major hotel chain for a job as a sous chef and through diligence and persistence got himself registered as available for work on the Cruise Liners operated by the holding company.
That’s how he found himself in the bowels of the SS Catalina, providing the second class passengers with Mulligatawny soup, rack of lamb and truite aux amandes. Somewhere outside, the Pacific churned by.
Whenever they made port and the crew was allowed onshore, his fellow chefs, waiters, and stewards would head for the beach or the casino but Michael would pull on a battered Reefer Jacket, whatever the temperature, and walk around the dockside bars with a practised roll.
He’d pace the diesel soaked quays happily looking for hard eyed men with weather-beaten faces to talk of cursed voyages, doomed vessels and exotic havens in the backstreets of tropical ports where the rotgut and the women were evenly priced.
All he ever found were Filipinos or Estonians too broke to go into town. But it didn’t matter. They were seafarers all.