Love and romance on QE2

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley is on a round-the-world trip aboard the QE2. This week she sails through pirate-infested waters. She also reveals shipboard romances, and meets the ship's hotel manager.

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley is on a round-the-world trip aboard the QE2. This week she sails through pirate-infested waters. She also reveals shipboard romances, and meets the ship's hotel manager.

WE had a sail-away party from Singapore on the funnel deck, and everyone there danced to the Caribbean disco band until midnight at least.

My shirt, face, hair etc were literally sopping wet, especially after YMCA and Conga, cha-cha etc. I had to have a cold shower before bed as we sailed away through the Malacca Straits, a very narrow stretch of water but very busy.

It well-known area for piracy, so security was stepped up all over the ship until we left the straits for the Anderman sea. Normally there are 12 security officers, most of whom are ex-army Gurkhas and all from Nepal. On sail days they do training and checking of equipment, port days they check passengers on and off the ship, their luggage and any shopping. In Singapore my security pass says “drug trafficking means the death penalty”.

There is a security zone of 50 metres round the ship. If any vessel gets too close, a searchlight comes on and a verbal warning is given to alter course and move away.

The next three days were at sea, as we had to cancel a visit to Sri Lanka because of political unrest, so time was spent recovering from Singapore reading, doing laundry, gossiping etc.

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One day the rain came down so heavily that it was blown across the deck in waves.

I had tea with an acquaintance Thea, who was quite vehement about the film “The Queen” which she did not go to see because she said “the Queen is not like that.”

Apparently she had met the Queen on several occasions at Buck House whilst doing fittings for Princess Anne (aged 11) for a headdress and bridesmaid dress for the Duchess of Kent's wedding in the 1950s - she also made dresses for the Mountbatten ladies and the Duchess of Kent herself.

She said Anne was pleased to have a new dress, as most of her clothes came from M&S.

The Queen made jokes to try to get Anne to smile - without much success. At 11am the Queen invited Thea to stand with her at the window to watch the changing of the guard.

Thea was amazed at how slight the Queen was, thought her hairstyle didn't really suit her, and that her clothes were frumpish!

March 24 was my birthday so I opened cards and gifts from my daughters and friends, which I had brought with me. The ship's captain, the restaurant staff and John Duffy sent me cards. John sent me a big vase of flowers as did Cunard.

I have no room to put anything on my dresser and the room smells divine. E-mails arrived later from the family - I couldn't get a message out to them - again - sorry girls but thanks.

A bottle of champagne at dinner and a flutter (unsuccessfully) in the casino ended a lovely day.

March 25 and 26 was spent in Cochin - port in Kerala State of Southern India.

Occupied by the Dutch, Portuguese and British, it has a colonial feel but is not really a tourist place. Three friends and myself took a taxi for a four-hour tour of the high spots.

Next day I went on a Cunard trip round churches, palaces, synagogues and markets, and saw the same type of fishing nets they had in China. I even helped to heave the ropes pulling the nets out of the water - it was the hardest work I had done for three months.

We are due to sail in one hour and will arrive in Goa next, where my intention is to hit the beach.

JOHN Duffy the hotel manager casts his eyes everywhere.

He is in charge of everything inside the ship, housekeeping, cabin services, food and beverages, purser's office, cruise director, medical, shops and tours manager and is responsible only to the captain and Cunard's main office in California.

John joined Cunard in the 1960s and sailed on QE2's maiden voyage in 1967. He has served on many ships in the fleet but has been back on QE2 since 1981.

Every day is different but usually he is at his desk at 7.30am checking e-mails and company business.

He holds department meetings before docking in port and after leaving, to discuss arrangements for visiting dignitaries or groups of travel agents etc.

He spends time walking round the ship, checking, observing, chatting, dealing with problems for passengers or crew. If people complain, he either passes it on to the appropriate department or deals with is personally.

I told him my concern over piracy on the high seas. He laughed at the notion I'd heard to “repel all boarders”. There is a contingency plan which depends basically on the sheer speed of QE2 to get away from trouble and informing the coastguard who would deal with a problem - no cannons on board then!

I asked him about codewords used on board, for example on March 23 at 00.40am there was a general call to ship's company for a “priority 003” - emergency, death a fight? No - simply a burst pipe was leaking somewhere on board.

His biggest anxiety is whether things will go smoothly when royalty or dignitaries come aboard. John has several photos in his office - a lovely one of Princess Diana and another of Nelson Mandela.

My friend Shirley showed me her wedding photos on the computer.

She remarried John in St Lucia last November which pleased their children and grandchildren - I did not presume to go into details but I started thinking about other people on board who had found romance.

There's Jim and Muriel who had met on previous cruises and married in 2002, Ray and Leone who met and married in 2004, and another couple who met on this cruise and got engaged in Sydney.

At the other end of the scale there is the couple who had a blazing row in a lift, the lady threatening divorce and wanting to leave the ship in Yokohama - they're still on board and all lovey-dovey.

It's the same with the crew of course. Many of them met and married other crew members - some long term, others not so happily. Others have partners on board ship. I suppose close proximity works both ways - bringing them together or adding to the tensions.

I've seen several having dinner together, holding hands, stealing a quick kiss in the corridor - it's inevitable I suppose.

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