Archive for April, 2012

As we had had to put our clocks back one hour and 27 minutes at 2.00am this morning, we woke up very early after a very rough night in which the Balmoral was tossed about the wild Atlantic like a cork. We looked out of our window at large waves, one or two of which, on occasion, crashed against the window. The wake of the ship foamed a pale green immediately below us, but apart from that all we could see was the “big grey widow maker” as we’d heard the Atlantic referred to in Senan Moloney’s talk yesterday.

This morning we went along to the Lido lounge to hear the talk given by Barbara Rusch called “Titanic: From Dreams to Nightmare to Myth”. It was none other than Barbara from our table in the restaurant! 🙂 She was actually a very good, very eloquent speaker and some of the passages she read out brought a lump to the throat. It was impossible to imagine how, for those 2,200 passengers and crew, the voyage of dreams, the voyage of a lifetime, could have turned so quickly and so unexpectedly from joy into utter misery and desolation.

One hundred years ago today, as the Titanic steamed across the Atlantic as the Balmoral is doing now, no-one on board could have had any idea as to how the night would end. That thought was with us quite a lot today as we went about our daily activities around the ship.

After Barbara’s talk we went along to the Neptune lounge to see Commodore Warwick’s presentation about his dive to the Titanic wreck in 2001. Can you imagine how awesome that would be: to actually go two and a half miles down to the sea bed to see the ghostly remains of the Titanic herself? I remember being totally engrossed by the pictures when reading Dr Robert Ballard’s book The Discovery of the Titanic, but to go down there and experience it for real must be something else.

Consequently, Ron Warwick’s presentation was excellent. He had brought with him a piece of rock that he’d brought up from the sea bed; what was interesting about this rock was that it was a reddish colour; it was actually coated in rust that has come from the hull of the Titanic. He also showed us an ordinary polystyrene coffee cup of the type you’d get out of a vending machine; then he showed us a tiny shrunken version of the same cup. Before commencing the dive down to the wreck in a special submersible (a type of bathyscaphe) they had put the cup, along with some other things, in an mesh onion bag attached to the bottom of the craft so that we could see what happened to articles at a pressure of about 2.5 tons per square inch; inevitably all the air was squashed out of the polystyrene and it ended up a hard, compressed plastic. The Commodore also had a White Star Line red pennant of the same kind that was attached to the mast of the Titanic.

Once the presentation was finished we went along to the Morning Light pub for a pre-luncheon drink and to listen to the noon announcement from the Captain on the bridge. After being assured that “all is well” we went along to have some lunch. 🙂

The lecture this afternoon came from Alan Hustak and was all about the Halifax, Nova Scotia connection to the Titanic. The mortal remains of many of Titanic’s passengers were not recovered until five to seven days after the disaster (some of the bodies didn’t come to the surface straight away) so, while a lot of them were named and given a burial in Halifax, many remained unidentified and unclaimed. It is only now, 100 years later, when we have so much more technology available to us such as DNA analysis, that some of those unidentified unfortunates now have a name, and some of the gravestones have been changed to reflect this. Of course, a lot of the bodies (I believe over 300) were in too bad a condition to identify, and these were given a burial at sea. They are gone but, as this Memorial Voyage will testify, not forgotten.

Following Alan’s presentation we went back to our cabin to start getting washed and changed and ready for dinner. The sea now appeared to be much calmer and the Balmoral was steadier when walking around. A quick look out of deck, however, let us see there was still a brisk sea breeze and we needed to wrap up well if spending any time outside.

On our way to the Ballindalloch restaurant we made a brief stop-off to the Neptune lounge, where they had laid out some commemorative wreaths for committal into the deep later on. The wreaths were absolutely beautiful and so very poignant.

We partook of an excellent dinner as ever; I had a sort of beef ragoût typical of the dish served to 3rd Class passengers on the Titanic; it was actually very good. We enjoyed the usual convivial company on table #61 and left the restaurant just before 8.30pm; in fact we were the last to leave. 🙂

In the Neptune lounge this evening, the Grupetto Ensemble musicians were playing us their repertoire called “Last Waltz on the Titanic”. There were two violin players, a cellist, a pianist and a clarinet player, and they were all dressed in formal clothing with tail jackets. This was their tribute to Wallace Hartley’s band on the Titanic. The band leader read us out the timeline of what happened 100 years ago, and played the same tunes. A lot of the tunes the Titanic bandsmen played were upbeat ones, so we heard “Alexander’s Rag Time Band”, as well as “Shine On Harvest Moon”. Our band leader then turned to the rest of his musicians and said “Gentlemen, it has been an honour to play with you” before they launched into “Nearer, My God to Thee”. It was a lovely, totally fitting tribute to those eight brave bandsmen who perished that fateful night a century ago. 😦

After the show we went along to the Lido lounge for the Titanic Trivia quiz. It was really hard, such as “how many light bulbs were needed on board?” Who on earth would know that?! We didn’t do very well, only scoring nine out of 20.

We stayed a short while afterwards to watch the female singer before going back to cabin 4170 to get changed into warmer clothing as we wanted to be up on deck for about 11.25pm. From this point on, I’m going to write this blog to show the timeline.

11.35pm, 14th April 2012
From our position on deck 11 of the Balmoral, next to the ship’s funnel, we heard Captain Bamberg announce that we would shortly be holding two minutes’ silence to remember the events that started exactly 100 years ago. The silence would commence at the sound of the ship’s whistle.

11.40pm, 14th April 2012
The Balmoral gave a single blast of her foghorn at the exact minute 100 years ago that the Titanic struck the iceberg. Trevor and I stood at the starboard side of the ship, the side that had connected with the iceberg, and we gazed out into the blackness of the night, thinking of the events a century ago that had so shaken the world. After the two minutes’ silence, the Captain thanked us and we wandered around the deck for a bit. We looked over towards the stern and the first thing we noticed was the White Star Line pennant, where it had been hoisted aloft from the rear mast. What a great, truly apt touch.

11.50pm, 14th April 2012
Back in our cabin, we switched on the television where the narrator was reading out the names of all 1503 passengers and crew who had perished that fateful night. 100 years ago it was all happening; how many of those poor people had no idea that they’d never see the next sunrise?

12.15am, 15th April 2012
We went along to the Neptune lounge which had been set out like the inside of a church; the floral wreaths were at the front, as were some candles waiting to be lighted as well as a pulpit set up. On a large screen the names of the lost souls continued to be displayed and read out, one by one.

01.00am, 15th April 2012
Commodore Ronald Warwick was doing our memorial service; in the Ballindalloch restaurant the Balmoral’s padre was conducting another service simultaneously. This was to cater for all 1309 passengers on board the Balmoral. I am not at all a religious person but the service was really good; we sung appropriate hymns like Abide with Me and O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The sermon and the prayers were directly aimed at the victims of the Titanic disaster as well as seafarers in general. The overall mood in the Neptune lounge was respectful and sombre. Three candles were lit, one each to represent love, hope and light. We finished by all of us reciting the Lord’s Prayer in one voice, before being escorted outside to the open decks at the stern of the Balmoral at 01.45am.

On our way out, we were each given insulated mugs containing hot mulled wine, a thoughtful gesture on the part of Fred Olsen, as it was cold out on deck.

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On waking up this morning to calm and sunny seas we found, once again, that they were serving free ‘champagne’ with breakfast, as tonight is another formal night. We managed to consume four glasses each (!), the last of which we took out onto the deck at the stern and enjoyed outside in the rare North Atlantic April sunshine. The temperature was actually quite mild and the wind had dropped enough for some people to venture into the Jacuzzi and pools.

At 9.45am we went along to the Neptune lounge to listen to Jack Eaton and Charles Haas talking about “Titanic Mythellany”, elaborating, in fact, on some of the dispelled myths we had touched upon in the Q and A session yesterday. As someone who has been interested in the Titanic for many years (since reading Robert Ballard’s book in 1987, in fact) I always get people coming up to me and saying, in a knowing sort of voice, things like “Did you know that the champagne bottle didn’t break when they launched the Titanic?” and other such rumours and alleged “facts”. So it is great when I can hear results of research which sorts out the wheat from the chaff. Just for the record, the champagne bottle did break. 🙂

We spent the rest of the morning pottering around the ship, spending a lot of time wandering around on deck and enjoying the fresh sea air. We tried to imagine how the passengers on the Titanic would have spent the long sea days 100 years ago, when there were no computers, iPhones, PowerPoint presentations and GPS location maps to keep them entertained, facilities we take for granted here on the Balmoral.

At 12.00 noon Captain Bamberg made his usual announcement from the Bridge, starting as always by saying “A very good afternoon, ladies and yentlemen”. Like many Scandinavians, the Captain finds it difficult to pronounce the letter “J” or the soft “G” sound the English way, as this sound does not exist in their language. So it was always “yentlemen”. As ever, all was well on the bridge. 🙂

The afternoon’s lecture in the Neptune lounge was called “The Mystery Ship” and was given by Senan Moloney. It was designed to try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the SS Californian, the ship who had allegedly seen the Titanic fire distress rockets yet failed to come to her rescue. This is a controversy that has raged on for 100 years; Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian was ostracised for the rest of his life, but was he really the “bad guy” that old and new literature about the Titanic makes him out to be? Senan’s talk showed that there even could have been another ship in the area at the time; also, the wreck of the Titanic was found about 13 nautical miles east of her final known position as given in her SOS call. So there were and are many inconsistencies to the story, and I couldn’t list them all here without resorting to pages of writing.

Soon afterwards it was time for me to go back to cabin 4170 to start to get ready for our second formal night. Once again I was getting my hair put up in a glamorous up-style as befitting the occasion. My dress for tonight was a black velvet, lace and ribbon Gothic-style dress, which was shorter at the front and cascaded into a full-length dress at the back. I wore it with black fishnet stockings, black shoe-boots with three decorative buckles, my long black velvet gloves and a black lace and sequin shawl with a long fringe. It wasn’t really a 1912-era outfit, but the overall effect was, nonetheless, very good. 🙂

As the Captain had been absent for his cocktail reception on 10th April, we were having another Captain’s reception tonight. Oh goody – more free champers on Fred. 😉

While in the queue to go into the Neptune lounge to meet the Captain, I looked around at all the passengers in their sartorial splendour. Formal evenings on cruises are always special events, but here on the Balmoral everyone had really pushed the boat out, so to speak. There were many authentic costumes and people had obviously gone to great effort: from the “3rd Class” gentlemen in their rough tweed trousers, cotton collarless shirts, braces and cloth caps to the “1st Class” ladies in their silks and satins, their pearl chokers and big ornate hats, to the gentlemen in their top hats, tails, silk cravats and white gloves, all around us everyone looked superb. Even those not dressed in 1912 costume had either bought or made the most gorgeous evening dresses and it was a sight to behold.

Captain Bamberg made his appearance and introduced his senior officers. As we have been sailing west we have had to put our clocks and watches back an hour each night (as is usual practice) but tonight, the Captain announced we would need to put the ship’s clock back by one hour and 27 minutes, in order that we will have the exact time on the clock, according to our degrees longitude, that the Titanic had when she struck the iceberg at precisely 23:40 hours on the evening of the 14th April 1912.

Once again we enjoyed some canapés and several glasses of free plonk, courtesy of Fred Olsen, before going into the restaurant for our special Titanic dinner. It was the same dishes served on the Titanic and I have reproduced the menu here. The passengers on the Titanic, even those travelling 3rd Class, must have been really well fed and the first class food was superb. I started with quail’s eggs in aspic and caviar – how posh can you get? Even today that menu would be impressive.

After leaving the table fit to burst we went along to the Neptune lounge where tonight the entertainment was a Welsh opera singer called Anthony Stuart Lloyd. We realised we had seen him before, in January 2010 on the Queen Mary 2. He has a rich, bass-baritone voice and is a giant of a man at around 6’ 6” with immense shoulders. He sang all sorts of stuff; some from the musicals, some from the opera such as the Toreador March from Carmen. He is an excellent singer and he told us he would be singing again at the memorial service tomorrow night.

We finished the evening, as usual, by going along to the Lido lounge where the magician we’d seen on Monday night, Mark Shortland, was doing another show. He was very entertaining and his tricks are that little bit different.

Then it was back to our cabin where we knew we were going to be in for a rough night; the wind had got up and the Balmoral was dancing a polka on the waves.

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We awoke around 8.00am and, after a good breakfast in the Palms Café, decided to go out on deck where the weather looked much brighter. We had a good wander along the deck, taking in the bracing sea air and watching the Balmoral as she glided through the deep waters of the north Atlantic. There was not so much of a swell today, so it was much easier to move around and all we could feel was the gentle, almost soporific, rocking of the vessel along with the muted vibration from her engines.

At 9.45am we went, as ever, along to the Neptune lounge to listen to the talk, with was all about the Canadian connection with the Titanic. In 1912, however, anyone bound for Canada (even if they were born there) were referred to as “British subjects” so, technically, there are no Canadians listed as being on board the Titanic. However, the speaker, Alan Hustak, said that there were actually 130 Canadians on board the doomed vessel, 48 of which survived.

He then showed a still from the 1997 James Cameron movie, “Titanic” which showed the fictitious characters Jack and Rose and asked everyone to forget all about that image and that movie, at which everyone applauded. This is because any Titanic aficionados (among which I’d like to include myself) absolutely hate the Di Caprio/Winslet film – why include a fictional sub-plot in a true story that is fascinating enough in itself? Also, there were many elements of Cameron’s movie that were historically inaccurate; but that’s enough about that. As our speaker said; forget this image, forget the movie. He was going to tell us the real love story on Titanic which related the short, but steamy affair between a 1st Class passenger, Quigg Baxter, who was a well-known hockey player from Montréal, Canada and a 3rd Class passenger who was a some-time night club singer (allegedly) called Bertha Villiers. To give us a laugh, he’d Photoshopped their images over the Di Caprio and Winslet faces in the photo. 🙂

We had a good walk around the deck of the Balmoral afterwards, and took lots of photos of her from various decks and angles, which can be seen in my gallery. On the lee side of the ship it was fairly mild and, indeed, some people were even braving the Deck 11 swimming pool. We decided to go into the Observatory and have a quiet drink with our birds’ eye view over the Atlantic.

At 12.00 noon exactly came Captain Bamberg’s navigational information from the bridge. We always enjoy listening to this information and it is interesting that they still say that the ship has “steamed” however many nautical miles since the previous day’s announcement. The captain told us the latitude and longitude, the temperature, the wind speed and how many nautical miles we’d travelled. He then ended his announcement, as he does every day, with “Ladies and gentlemen, have a very good afternoon and from the Bridge, all is well.” One of the unique little quirks we often find on each voyage we’ve done, like the captain on the Marco Polo during our Antarctic expedition in 2006, who always ended his midday speech with a little poem. 🙂

After the captain’s announcement the pianist in the Observatory, who had been quietly playing in the background, introduced Lauren Casey, a singer-songwriter. She sat down at the piano and started to “sing”, or should I say screech. What a dreadful, high-pitched voice. We had noticed that the glass in one of the windows of the observatory for’ard had been smashed into tiny smithereens, and we wouldn’t have been surprised if Ms. Casey’s tortuous high notes had done it. When she commenced singing the dreadful Celine Dion song My Fart Will Go On, we decided it was time to leave. Sorry for the play on words, but I hate this song almost as much as I hate the film it comes from.

We went into the Marquee Bar out of the way, and it was obvious that the other people present had the same opinion of the singer that I did, as we could still hear her wailing and ululating her way through her repertoire every time the door opened. There was a brief respite as she took her break for half an hour or so, before starting again. We decided to go somewhere out of earshot.

We went back to our cabin briefly before going up to the Lido lounge where a lady who impersonates Titanic survivor Mrs Margaret Brown was doing a talk called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. It was only 1.30pm and she was not due on until 2.00pm but the place was already packed and we could only get a seat fairly near the back, at the left hand side. However, we got the usual supply of extremely inconsiderate and selfish people, arriving late and then grabbing chairs from outside, bringing them into the lounge and then plonking them down right in front of people who’d made the effort to be there in good time. It absolutely infuriates me and we come across this sort of behaviour time after time. It meant that, from where I was sitting, I had gone from an impeded view to now no view at all. Really annoying. I decided to leave as I couldn’t see anything and it just spoilt it for me.

However, we managed to get a good seat in the Neptune Lounge afterwards for the Question and Answer session with some of the speakers we had listened to on this voyage so far. The panel consisted of Philip Littlejohn, Susie Millar, Senan Moloney, Ron Warwick and Charles Haas. It was immensely interesting as the members of the audience were invited to take the microphone and put their questions to the panel. There was a wide range of questions from all nationalities and it really illustrated the panel’s knowledge of the people and the events of the Titanic as there was not a question remained unanswered. From my perspective, I was very pleased to hear the ridiculous myths and conspiracy theories that have sprung up in recent years about the Titanic firmly refuted and dispelled. A few of them: the rivets and steel used were inferior (untrue), an unusual phase of the moon affected the tides (untrue), it was really the Olympic and not the Titanic that sank (untrue). In each case the members of the panel were able to argue, convincingly why these stories were just so farcical.

We passed the afternoon pleasantly before getting changed for dinner and going along to the Ballindalloch restaurant, where we had a full house at table #61. As ever, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal in excellent company; the wine and the conversation flowed until, fully sated, we hot-footed it along to the Neptune lounge for the evening’s entertainment, a comedy pianist called Colin Henry.

The comedian was absolutely hilarious; at least the Brits thought so although I suspect some of our transatlantic friends may have had a little trouble with the Lancashire humour. 🙂 He was also a very talented pianist and his pièce de résistance was standing on his head, back to the piano, resting his legs on the top of the instrument then playing a note perfect tune upside down. Apparently he’s in the record books for this. He also played an excellent rendition of Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, a piece of music which I love and which is completely underrated.

We finished the evening off by going, as usual, to the Lido lounge for a singing quintet who were very pleasant, before having a nightcap and then off to bed. It didn’t take us long to fall asleep tonight, lulled by the Balmoral’s gentle rocking among the vast seascape of the Atlantic.

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We had slept much better last night as the gale had died down a lot and the ship was not pitching and rolling as much, so it was quieter. When we woke up this morning and looked out at miles of Atlantic Ocean the sun was shining and there weren’t quite as many “white horses” on the sea. The Balmoral looked as though she had speeded up a bit, but I suppose the captain will be trying to make up for lost time.

I didn’t go up to breakfast, preferring instead to have a coffee in the cabin and wash and blow-dry my hair to save having to do it later. So we just had a wander about the ship, and watched the on-board artist complete his paintings of the Titanic. We also went along to the photo gallery to look for the formal portraits they’d taken of us last night in our evening wear; I actually quite liked mine and bought it; which makes a change because I’m not at all photogenic and I usually don’t like seeing photos of myself.

At 09:45 it was time for us to go, yet again, to the Neptune lounge for the first of today’s lectures – this time by Philip Littlejohn who is the grandson of Alexander Littlejohn, a steward on board Titanic who was ordered to row Lifeboat #13. The guy didn’t use any prompt notes, just a few slides showing copies of original documents, including a postcard of the Titanic (with Alexander Littlejohn’s handwriting on the back) that had survived the disaster along with his grandfather. He explained that he didn’t dare bring the originals with him as the postcard alone had been insured for around £10,000. Wow.

After the talk we then went for a coffee in the Palms Café, had a look around the shops then ventured out on deck. It was still quite windy but at least there wasn’t as much spray about and the deck was dry. You could have had your pick of the sun loungers though. 🙂

The afternoon talk was given by Commodore Ronald Warwick, former captain of both the QE2 and the QM2. We had previously met him in 2004 on the Queen Mary 2 maiden voyage. He looks just how you would imagine the captain of an ocean liner to look, ruddy-cheeked and with his shock of white hair and white beard; in fact, he doesn’t look unlike Captain E.J. Smith himself. Commodore Warwick’s lecture was all about his research into the officers of the Titanic and the Carpathia using the resources available on the internet, as well as census records, national archives and records kept at Somerset House. It was fascinating to see some of the old hand-written ledgers and documents relating to the officers and seamen of the old liners; it really gave you a little frisson when you saw an employment record of some of them, listing RMS Titanic as the ship on which they were engaged before the record came to an abrupt end, after which was written “lost at sea”. It is all these extra little snippets of information that continue to add to, and enrich, the legend of the Titanic; the personal element and the everyday lives that only became significant because of the disaster, and otherwise would never have been known. Fascinating stuff.

When we went up to dinner there was only Trevor and me, along with Donny and Barbara; there was no sign of David and Joanna so we assumed they’d gone to the Palms Café where they were putting on an Asian buffet. We decided to have the ‘Titanic Dish of the Day’ which was chicken curry and rice, a dish which had been served to 2nd class passengers. It was very tasty and we enjoyed a bottle of rosé wine with it. We had a most interesting conversation with Donny and Barbara; they are Sherlock Holmes fans and devotees of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They had met some descendants of his and had even bought, in auction, some undergarments that had belonged to Lady Conan Doyle. They really knew a lot about him and about his works and their enthusiasm was infectious.

The entertainment tonight in the Neptune lounge was the Balmoral singers and dancers putting on a show with clips from some of the West End musicals, such as Les Misérables. It was really entertaining; I think they are one of the better on-board singers/dancers we’ve come across compared to some cruises.

We finished the night off by going to the Lido lounge for the quiz at which a lot of cheating prevailed. 🙂 The questions were all cryptic clues, the answers to which were parts of the body, but some of the clues and answers I felt were quite wide of the mark and the hostess was just more or less accepting any answers. So despite scoring 16 out of 20, we didn’t win. 😦

We stayed just long enough to watch the final cabaret act of the evening a ‘swing’ singer called Jamie Clarke. He was actually very good and added a comedy element to his excellent singing. We hadn’t intended staying this late but we enjoyed his show so much we saw it through to the end.

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Atlantic Crossing

We woke up this morning, or rather I should say woke up again, after having done so several times in the night on a very rough Atlantic ocean. Last night, in the darkness of our cabin, we heard the continuous racket of creaking, groaning, rattling and banging as the Balmoral pitched and rolled in a good three metre ocean swell. Occasionally there would be an almighty crash as a particularly big wave hit our window, or the entire ship juddered as she plunged through the peaks and troughs. A bit of an uncomfortable night as we couldn’t stay still in our beds, but I suppose it makes it more authentic, considering what our voyage is commemorating. In addition, as I have previously mentioned, the Balmoral is a cruise ship and therefore not really built for transatlantic crossings; we have done this voyage before on proper ocean liners (the QE2 and the QM2) and the voyage is much more comfortable.

But it was without trepidation that we made our way to the Palms Café to enjoy our breakfast; thank goodness for our sea legs! 🙂 As is traditional of Fred Olsen ships when it is a formal evening, free champagne and Bucks Fizz was on offer – good old Fred! So I enjoyed smoked salmon, fresh fruits and a glass of bubbly for breakfast, not a bad start at all to the day.

After breakfast we made our way, once again, to the Neptune lounge to listen to another lecture, this time entitled “The Irish Aboard the Titanic” by a bloke called Senan Moloney. His lecture was based around eye witness accounts of third-class survivors of the disaster and gave an overview of the darker side of the story amid the tales of heroism we are used to hearing about the sinking of the Titanic. Were some of the passengers shot dead by the officers of White Star Line? Were some of the men forcibly prevented from getting into lifeboats in the water, despite some of the boats being half empty? There was quite a lot of food for thought in this lecture and it allowed the listener to hear it from another perspective, that of “what would you do?”

We heard the Captain’s noon announcement, giving us navigational as well as weather information. We were not surprised to hear that the wind was a Force 8 on the Beaufort scale; a strong gale. The waves were very high and you could see the spray in the air. Trevor and I did venture out on deck briefly, but despite the sun shining the wind made it feel quite cold, so we didn’t stay out long! Incidentally, the master of the Balmoral is Captain Robert Bamberg. “Bam berg” – bit of an irony there, don’t you think?

The Balmoral continued to pitch and roll in the ocean; we have often found that you get quite a lot of passive exercise in this situation, purely from having to brace your leg muscles hard in order just to stand upright. In the past we’ve disembarked a ship after crossing the Bay of Biscay in a Force 10 and, believe me, my legs ached for days afterwards, as if I’d had a really good gym workout.

We went for lunch about 1.00pm in the Palms Café again, and then came back to the cabin to read our books, have a nap etc. but half the time we were picking things up off the floor that had slid off the chest of drawers with the motion of the ship.

At 2.45pm we proceeded, once again, to the Neptune lounge for another Titanic themed lecture, this time by marine historian Peter Boyd-Smith who talked about the luxury on board the ocean liners of the time, including the Titanic. On this ship, for example, the 3rd Class passengers (White Star and Cunard never called them ‘steerage’) actually ate better food and had more comfortable accommodation than that which they were used to back home. Fares for the transatlantic crossing on the Titanic ranged from £8.00 to £870.00 per person in 1912 – you can put that in perspective if I tell you that it is possible to go from Southampton to New York on the cheapest cabin in the Queen Mary 2 for around £995.00 per person in 2012 – imagine how wealthy some of the passengers must have been on Titanic!

After Peter Boyd-Smith’s talk it was time to go back to our cabin and start getting ready, because tonight was formal night and would give us the chance to dress up in our glad-rags, Titanic themed if possible. It was also the Captain’s cocktail party at 5.30pm for first sitting dinner passengers so we had to be ready early and I had an appointment to have my hair put up at 5.00pm.

At 16:15 hours the Captain made the announcement that – regrettably – there was a medical emergency on board and he would have to turn the ship around and start heading east again, in order to meet with a rescue helicopter that would be coming from Britain. It was obviously serious if the patient was having to be taken off the Balmoral and winched up into a helicopter, but I hope it doesn’t mean that our arrival at the Titanic wreck site was going to be delayed as this is, after all, the whole point of this voyage – to be there in the exact spot 100 years to the hour later.

I put on my long lime and black dress and bolero jacket, along with long black velvet evening gloves, a Guipure lace and Swarovski crystal collar and went along to have my hair put up, before wearing my black hat with the feathers at the back and the net veil. As I was coming out of the hair salon lots of people commented on my costume and several stopped and asked if they could take my photo. Quite a few people had dressed in period costume and everyone looked great. I felt really elegant and quite like a celebrity as loads of people wanted to take my picture. Trevor had on his dinner suit and Black Watch tartan bow tie and cummerbund, but I suppose the men’s fashions in the last century haven’t changed as much as the women’s. Then again, maybe the women’s fashions aren’t so different either, as I’d only bought my dress from Roman Originals 18 months ago, but lots of people asked if I’d had it especially made.

We went along to the Neptune lounge and managed to get a seat near the front. A string quintet were playing on the stage and waiters and waitresses came round with their silver trays of champagne flutes and canapés. Just then, the Captain’s voice came over the tannoy announcing that, because they were waiting for the rescue helicopter, he couldn’t leave the bridge so he wouldn’t be able to greet the passengers. So we had the Captain’s cocktail party without the Captain. Not to worry though – we managed to consume four glasses of the champers each before it was time to go to dinner. 🙂

Dinner was a grand affair with everyone dressed up. Each night the dinner menu has featured a dish that they used to serve on the Titanic as well as a choice of other items. I had a seafood platter consisting of jumbo prawns, scallops, crab meat and smoked salmon. It was delicious and I finished off with the cheese board and a glass of amaretto.

In the Neptune lounge this evening the show featured a really good saxophonist called Sarah Chandler. She played a lot of the classic tunes but with a modern twist and we enjoyed her music. Then it was up to the Lido lounge afterwards for a Titanic quiz. We got 15 out of 21 – not bad, but not good either, as the winners scored 19 points.

Then it was a modern day phenomenon after wards; the ubiquitous karaoke. I got up and did a couple of numbers and, in fact, the general standard of singing was quite high for a change. It was about 1.00am before we went back to cabin 4170, but at least the clocks go back tonight, so we do get an extra hour in bed.

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This morning we woke up and looked out of our window to a choppy and grey Atlantic ocean. A bit different from the azure waters of our last cruise in the Caribbean in January this year. We were due to arrive in Cobh in the afternoon. Cobh, of course, used to be known as Queenstown, and the Titanic had made a port of call there in 1912 to pick up many Irish emigrants, a lot of whom were travelling third class. So Cobh has quite a connection with the Titanic and we were looking forward to our walking tour of the Titanic Trail later on.

Meanwhile, we had nearly a whole day at sea to look forward to on the Balmoral. It’s just a pity that the weather was windy and rainy as it prevented us from going out on deck. Not to worry though; there was a full programme of lectures, music entertainment and other activities to keep us occupied.

The first of these was a lecture by Dr Michael Martin who was a historian telling us all about Cobh (Queenstown) and some of its people who had been passengers on the Titanic. There were some really interesting personal stories about what were just ordinary working class people at the time; strange to think that their names are still being mentioned and they are still being talked about 100 years later. One of the stories concerned a lady who had boarded the Titanic in Queenstown along with her five children. When the ship sank and bodies were found they found a female body which had a bottle of pills in the pocket of her jacket. They were able, with a struggle, to make out the name of the pharmacist in Queenstown who had prescribed the pills and they wrote to him. He confirmed that he had prescribed the tablets for a lady called Margaret Rice. And so she was identified by a bottle of pills. Her body now rests, along with hundreds of others, in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They never did find any trace of her five sons.

After a tasty lunch in the Ballindalloch restaurant we had a look around the ship and had a brief afternoon nap. Then it was time to go to the next talk given by Susie Millar about her great grandfather, Thomas Millar, who had worked at Harland & Wolff and helped to build the Titanic. He was then given a job on board the ship as a deck engineer. Her presentation was entitled “Thomas Millar and the Two Pennies”.

Just before Tommy Millar boarded the Titanic he gave each of his sons a shiny new 1912 penny each and told them not to spend them until he came back from America and the family were all together again. The boys were sent to live with their grandmother near the shore of the Belfast Lough and they used to enjoy playing in and round the water. Of course, we know the story of the Titanic and what happened in the early hours of 15th April 1912, and when the boys’ grandmother received a telegram from New York explaining what had happened to the ship, she went to find one of the boys playing at the water’s edge, sailing a little paper boat he had made. As she watched, the little paper boat hit a rock, filled with water, sank and disintegrated into a soggy sheet of paper. She asked the young boy if he remembered his Daddy going off to sea in a big ship and, when he said he did, she said “Well, the same thing happened to that big ship as what’s just happened to your wee boat.” When the boy asked if his Daddy was coming home, his grandmother told him “no”. She then asked him if he was going to make another little paper boat, whereupon the young boy burst into tears and said “I hate boats”. So that was the way he learned of his father’s death on board the Titanic.

Suffice to say, the two shiny new pennies were never spent and have been passed down the generations; Susie Millar herself now owns them and they are temporarily on display in Phoenix, Arizona, at one of the many Titanic exhibitions around the world. A lovely little personal story that you wouldn’t normally come across in a book about the Titanic.

We had originally been due to arrive in Cobh today at 16.00 hours, but due to our late departure from Southampton and the adverse weather we were experiencing, we were going to be delayed a couple of hours, so we were now not due in until 18.00 hours. We therefore got decided to go to get something to eat earlier, as we would miss our usual dinner sitting. We went and had a pre-dinner drink then along we went to the Palms Café for our dinners, before getting changed into warmer clothing for our walking tour in Cobh.

What a tremendous welcome the Balmoral had when we arrived in Cobh. All along the shoreline were crowds of people greeting the ship, as well as the Lord Mayor and some MPs themselves. It was almost like a real maiden voyage as we had experienced crowds and a welcome party like this in 2004 when we were on the maiden voyage of the QM2. We disembarked the vessel and waited for our tour guide to take us on the Titanic Trail around Cobh, formerly Queenstown. The weather had faired up a lot and now the sun was shining, just ideal for walking.

Our guide was called Phil and he was quite a character, very knowledgeable about Cobh, its history, the people and the town’s connection with the Titanic. He injected a bit of Irish comedy into his talk so it was very entertaining. We passed the original White Star Line office building as well as an official memorial monument to the 1500 lost souls of the Titanic. We also went into the magnificent St Colman’s catholic cathedral, a lovely piece of architecture. Aside from the Titanic the city of Cobh looked an interesting and picturesque place to visit anyway, with lovely little waterside bars and restaurants. Our walk lasted about two and a half hours and ended with a visit to a traditional Irish pub for a glass of Irish coffee; just what we needed inside us as it was starting to get a bit chilly. The coffee was nice and strong. 🙂

As the Balmoral was not due to sail until 23.30 hours, we went along to the Commodore Hotel on the sea front, where they had put on a show in the function room simply for passengers of the Balmoral. It was a traditional Irish three piece band, called “Something Simple” singing and playing folk songs; they were really good and we enjoyed a cold pint of Guinness while listening to them. 🙂

Then, back on board the Balmoral at around 10.00pm, we went along to the Neptune lounge where the show tonight was a comedy magician called Mark Shortland. He was actually a very good magician and we enjoyed his show. We were quite tired afterwards though, so we just went back to the cabin for our second night on board, en route across the Atlantic.

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The First Evening

Back in cabin 4170 we washed and changed for dinner at 6.15pm. We have been allocated table #61 in the Ballindalloch restaurant and we met our table companions for the first time: a father and daughter, David and Joanna from Ohio, USA and a couple, Donny and Barbara from Toronto, Canada. They all seemed very pleasant and a lot of the mealtime talk was, not surprisingly, based around the Titanic and White Star Line. We explained to them that the SS Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, had been scrapped on the Tyne in 1935 and her First Class Dining Room had been disassembled, then reassembled as the function room in the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, Northumberland, a town about 55 miles away from us. They were fascinated by this information, particularly as the Titanic‘s captain, Edward J Smith, had previously been captain on the Olympic. So we had trodden the self-same wooden decking in the White Swan Hotel as “EJ” himself had done. 🙂

After dinner we went along to the Neptune lounge for the first of several Titanic themed talks which will be taking place this voyage. The guest lecturer tonight was Claes-Goran Wetterholm whose presentation was entitled “Travelling Third Class on the Titanic”. He was Swedish and he had had a great uncle who had been a passenger on board the Titanic travelling in steerage class. His relative was not one of the survivors. Apparently, of all the nationalities emigrating on the Titanic to the USA, the four greatest numbers were the British, Irish, Arabs and then the Swedish. The talk was most interesting and gave us a good insight into what life was like travelling on the ocean liners of the time.

Once the lecture was over we remained in the Neptune lounge for the cabaret, which was a singer called Gavin Murray. He was really good and did quite a few of the Broadway classics, including some songs from The Phantom of the Opera. Then we had a nightcap before going back to cabin 4170 and turning in for our first night on board M/S Balmoral.

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