Thief caught redhanded on QE2

RETIRED teacher Mavis Bensley is an Evening Star reader on a round-the-world cruise. In her tenth weekly column she sees volcanoes, teaches schoolchildren in Papua New Guinea and reveals how a thief was caught out on board the QE2.

RETIRED teacher Mavis Bensley is an Evening Star reader on a round-the-world cruise. In her tenth weekly column she sees volcanoes, teaches schoolchildren in Papua New Guinea and reveals how a thief was caught out on board the QE2.

CAIRNS is a bit of a one-horse town, but growing rapidly because of tourism, especially trips to the Great Barrier Reef which was disappointing today because of the weather.

In the afternoon I took a tour calling at an alternative lifestyle settlement with only 700 people, then a rainforest which lay pretty much undisturbed for centuries.

We watched painted Aboriginals dancing, chanting, playing didgeridoos, throwing boomerangs and spears.

We then went on an old World War Two US Army 'duck' - a vehicle for land and water.

There were many species of trees - no flowers because it was too dark at ground level. We passed an umbrella tree with lots of red berries on top - not very palatable, but alcoholic in content. Parrots love them and gorge themselves until they are drunk and fall out of the tree and are violently sick whereupon they repeat the process - this is where we get “sick as a parrot” from.

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When the duck took to the water we saw turtles, dragonflies and river dragons, which were large lizards with big teeth which looked prehistoric to me.

We just made the last tender back to the ship.

Now in the Solomon Sea, we sailed past some snake-infested coral islands. Humidity is almost 100 per cent and the sea water is warmer than the air.

Judy Cornwell (who played Daisy in Keeping Up Appearances) is on board to give a couple of lectures.

The Black and White Ball was held in the evening. The ship officers did a parade and then spent a short while dancing with us passengers - I still see my partner in the corridors and we do a quick turn before going on our way!

The ballroom was beautifully decked in black and white and all the passengers complied. It was like an old movie but I did feel sorry for the men in their tuxedos in the heat.

My first glimpse of Papua New Guinea was a volcano.

It looked definitely “miffed,” with steam pouring from the vents and centre.

In 1994-5 two volcanic eruptions with little warning, covering most of the town with mud and lava and volcanic ash. Today ash blows into buildings when the wind is in the wrong direction and a smell of sulphur is in the air.

Schoolchildren in their red and white gingham dresses, or white shirts and grey trousers came to the quayside to see the ship, as I set off on a long dusty walk.

Later I found the school and asked the principal if I could look around. She was delighted - and so were the children who followed me, asked for my autograph and chattered excitedly.

I found a book on Pidgin Chatter - and had great fun reading the pidgin for them to translate for me - “Monin tru” is “good morning”, “Wanem nem bilong yu?” is “what's your name?” and “Lukim yu behain” is “see you later”.

Their skin colour was all shades of black, brown and quite pale complexions. All their hair was crinkly black, brown, ginger or blonde. I went into a classroom and was allowed to take over the five/six year olds all sitting cross-legged in front of me with their big brown chocolate eyes staring in shy wonderment.

I wrote on the chalkboard “Hello, my name is Mavis. I come from England. Thank you for coming to see my ship”.

We talked about their homes - some were straw, some wooden, some brick. I showed them a picture of my previous house before I moved home, which was stone and thatch. We did a lot of questions and answers on both sides. Then I said “Lukim yu behain” and they all laughed.

Outside there were other children with poor dress or no clothes at all, who only did the minimum schooling.

Back on the ship, after my shower the floor was black with volcanic dust.

Rumour has it that a lady left three dresses in the launderette while she took her other clothes to her stateroom. On her return one of them was missing.

Of course she reported the fact to the purser's office. Later on the cruise she saw her dress being worn, and accused the wearer of the theft. “Prove it” was the retort, whereupon the original owner produced a receipt for purchase.

The woman wearing the dress was disembarked at Brisbane - it takes all sorts!

Tomorrow we dock in Yokohama and I look forward to visiting Tokyo.

I chatted to Dr Farouk Parker the senior doctor on board from South Africa.

There are two doctors, four nurses and a technician on board, and the facilities compare well with a small cottage hospital, with 18 beds, treatment room, dispensary x-ray machine and lab.

The treatments vary from the minor “I left my tablets at home” and “I have my blood pressure checked every month” to fractures or dental work and more serious cases.

Sometimes a specialist surgeon is on board as a passenger, who can take over for procedures like an appendectomy once his references have been checked, but usually the captain calls the coastguard and stops at the nearest port.

In 2004 a man died on board, I know not from what. His widow telephoned her sister, inviting her to take the husband's place - not only as there was a space in her cabin, but also to take the husband's part as half of a comedy duo at the passenger talent show!

If I had a heart attack, the cost for resuscitations, intensive care, medication and whatever else is necessary would be around $7,000. There is no charge for illness like the Novo virus some people contracted on board, provided passengers adhere to isolation instructions to stop spreading the infection.

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