Well, here it is at last; part II as promised. Once again, sorry for the delay.
There’s only one word to describe sailing out of Sydney Harbour at sunset; spectacular! Whilst the passengers lining the decks outside watched the HarbourBridge and the Opera House glide past, I was preparing my new workstation in the splendid dining room. Grumpy had given me an excellent table of well-heeled VIPs to look a after.
He ruled his domain like an emperor. Barking orders in all directions, he was obviously used to being obeyed. There was so much staff that the dining room looked full even without the guests.
‘You look after your table laddie, and they’ll look after you,’ he said to me. ‘They are all millionaires on a trip around the world; more money than sense. I know you can do silver service; perfectly. After all, you had good training – right? And you won’t let me down, which is more than I can say about the Italians over there. Never get into a fight with them, laddie,’ he said, lowering his voice. ‘One of them got beaten up badly last night; you are taking his place. Over there, next to the Captain’s table.’ Oh shit, I thought, but it was too late to protest. Grumpy had already turned away.
Many new passengers had joined the ship in Sydney and we were preparing for a special gala dinner to welcome them on board. The menu was mind-boggling and the selection of wines unbelievable. I was too busy to feel nervous. However, Grumpy had warned me about the American actress sitting next to the Purser on my table. ‘She’s very demanding, laddie. Used to being fussed over, and quite prickly,’ he said. ‘Always serve her first, call her madam, and give her your best smile. Here she comes now – look.’
Well past her prime and dressed in a tight-fitting black evening gown that should only have been worn by a woman half her age, the lady in question swept into the packed dining room. Turning heads for all the wrong reasons, and followed by her much older, short, bald and beaming, billionaire husband, she slowly made her way to the table. Tall and very skinny – obviously the result of years of strategic starvation – she looked more like a well dressed scarecrow than a diva commanding adulation. Her stunning hairdo was a work of art obviously held together by copious quantities of hairspray that made it look like a bleached-blond halo made of concrete. She wore so much jewellery that one had to wonder how such slender wrists and swan-like neck could possibly cope with so many gems and so much gold. However, most disconcerting of all – at least for me having to lean over to serve her – was her cleavage…
Leaving little to the imagination, her huge, silicone-enhanced breasts almost burst out of her dress. She ate very little, but drank a lot – Martinis mostly – and smiled all the time. It was one of those permanent one-facelift-too-many smiles that make you cringe every time she beamed in your direction. She was without doubt the most amazing looking sixty-something I had ever come across. Yet fate would soon bring us a little closer together in a way I could never have imagined. And I can blame it all on Neptune. This is what happened:
The seas between Australia and New Zealand are notorious; they can be very rough. Neptune must have had a serious disagreement with the mermaids that evening, because the sea began to boil soon after we had cleared away the main course and were preparing for the highlight of the evening; dessert.
Despite excellent stabilisers, she ship began to roll quite heavily. Some of the diners actually became ill and had to leave the table, but not my actress. She never stopped talking – mostly about films nobody had ever heard of – and her rasping, southern drawl dominated the conversation at the table.
‘Now listen carefully,’ said Grumpy, addressing us in the kitchen. The dessert is Bombe Alaska, he announced, and will be served in a special way. This is how we’ll do it …’ I must pause here and explain what this spectacular dessert is made of. Essentially, it’s a gooey ball of meringue with an ice cream and sponge centre. It is decorated with raspberries and has sparklers on top for effect which are lit before serving; one huge platter per table.
Grumpy was in his element. He was arranging the dessert presentation with military precision. The lights were dimmed, the sparklers lit and the orchestra gave as a dramatic drum roll entry. We were on our way.
My silver tray was so heavy that I had to rest it on my shoulders to be able carry it with one hand. By now, the ship was rolling alarmingly and it was quite difficult to walk in a straight line. I had almost reached my table and was about to lean over and put down the tray, when suddenly, the ship lurched sideways. My Bombe Alaska didn’t like this and continued to move stubbornly forward. It became airborne and for an instant turned into the real thing; a projectile. It missed the actress’ concrete halo by a whisker before landing on the table directly in front of her. Then it did what every good bomb is supposed to do: it exploded. Spectacularly!
For a moment there was stunned silence, then the lights went back on revealing the full extent of the disaster. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. How one dish could cause so much havoc was difficult to comprehend.
Bonbe Alaska with flame
Meringue and ice cream appeared to have reached every corner of the table. None of the diners had been spared, but somehow, the actress seemed to have borne the full brunt of the explosion. A large chunk of meringue with the sparkler still going strongly had embedded itself in her hairdo, making it sag in the middle. Melting ice cream was sliding down her neck and disappeared into her cleavage on a happy journey to God knows where.
So ended my first day at sea. It was the beginning of a wonderful adventure with many memorable episodes, a few of which I will share with you a little later.