Mavis meets Mary

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley is on the other side of the world, entering the last third of her trip on the QE2. In her eighth weekly column the 71-year-old from Ipswich finds the ride a bit rocky on the way to Tasmania.

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley is on the other side of the world, entering the last third of her trip on the QE2. In her eighth weekly column the 71-year-old from Ipswich finds the ride a bit rocky on the way to Tasmania.

AS I write this I'm still in New Zealand, Wellington or “Wellywood” as it is sometimes called because of filming Lord of the Rings and other films.

There are tours to the various locations and exhibitions of sets and memorabilia. A beauty salon advertised “we wax everything, except cars, floors and hobbits”.

In the National Heritage Museum of Te Papa I stood in a “house” to experience an earthquake, watched a 'tsunami', learned about Maori culture and even glimpsed at an imported display of Egyptology.

I took a cable car up the hillside for a panoramic view and found myself in the municipal botanical gardens. Actually they were very beautiful and immaculately tended, with hydrangeas the size of large dinner plates, lilies six feet tall, scented, rose, herb, ornamental and plants near to extinction.

I walked back to the ship and was exhausted by the time I got “home”.

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On to Christchurch, the most English of cities. The earliest ships carried stone as ballast which was then used for building purposes. Lumber was used on the return journey back to UK.

Nearly all the trees and plants are of English origin. It was like being in Cambridge. Statues of Queen Victoria and James Cook abound and the smell of flowers is everywhere.

When we rounded the south coast of New Zealand, the cold Antarctic currents met up with the warmer Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. This area is known as the “Roaring 40s” and the ship is rocking and rolling again.

'Keep one hand for yourself and one for the ship,' is the advice. I tend to take two steps forward and one or two stutters to the side.

As it is grey and overcast a day of indoor activity is called for. The laundry proves to be an interesting place. Ten washers, ten driers (usually one or two out of order). Things can get down and dirty in there.

“Are you using two machines?”

“Who left a red sock in my wash?”

“I was here before you I think.”

“I was sitting in that chair.”

Just getting there was a challenge when I first got on board. You not only have to know which deck you want but which staircase to get there. When QE2 was built there were three classes of passengers and they didn't mix.

I'm on the “posh” deck with staircases D-G. The laundry is on deck three staircase H, so a bit of route mapping was necessary before I could get where I wanted to be.

The staircases are indicative of “class” distinction also. The upper decks have wide, sweeping, central and side staircases with flowers, portraits and memorabilia showcases.

I went to an art auction on board to see what a Peter Max painting would fetch. It didn't sell, at $13,000 - too pricey for me. The champagne was nice though!

I went to the cinema in the afternoon to see “The Queen” with Helen Mirren. There was an interesting US reaction. They all loved Diana, thought Prince Phillip was a buffoon, the Queen an out of touch fuddy duddy and Prince Charles a wimp!

“Why do you need a Queen?” remarked one guy. Everyone agreed that Helen Mirren played the part beautifully though.

In Tasmania - affectionately known as “Tassie” where the people are Taswegians or Hillbillies, there is a buzzing harbour full of yachts, motor and sailboats, ferries, cruise ships and container ships.

On Saturday when we arrived, there was a huge street market, selling everything you can think of - from crocheted dresses reminding me of the one I had in the 60s and 70s, to handcuffs and thumb screws - very appropriate since this was a prison island for transportees in the 1800s. The gaols are still there as tourist attractions.

I spent a wonderful afternoon at a wildlife park where wallabies and kangaroos wandered free. I hand-fed some of them, they were so tame and gentle.

Back on board I watched the QE2 singers and dancers give a high octane version of West Side Story. The troupe consists of ten dancers, one English, two Argentinean, three Romanian and four Russian - all classically trained and two English singers. They are all contracted to an agency in Northampton.

Of course the ship's movement can be a hazard and shows can be cancelled if it is particularly tough.

They leave QE2 at Sydney and go on to QM2 to complete her world cruise, then they are contracted to appear on the newest Cunard ship Queen Victoria, after which - who knows.

The 'gentlemen hosts' ie dance partners for the single ladies are on call every night and most lunchtimes also act as tour coach chaperones - counting people on and off buses etc. I believe they pay a nominal amount for their cruise and in return for their dancing skills have a great life socialising and seeing the world - can't be bad eh?

Today there was a guest talent show with no lack of volunteers. Fifteen acts in all, singers, pianists, comedians - one chap in a wheelchair described himself as a “stand up comic”.

I must make special mention of Mary who reminds me of a cross between Miss Haversham and Bette Davis in an old film called “Whatever happened to Baby Jane?” Aged well into her 80s, Mary is tiny, stooped, wore a white frilly ballgown, long gloves, and a flower in her hair.

She was a former opera singer and is described as the 'diva of the QE2'.

Her performance was quite painful but she still belted out an aria from La Boheme. I don't know whether to say God bless her or heaven preserve us!

She has written a couple of books on her experiences on the QE2 and even had a book signing session later on in the day. Ah well it takes all sorts.

Tomorrow we dock in Melbourne and the big Australian adventure continues….

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