It’s Whit Sunday and when I was a little girl this would be the day I’d be wearing a new frock and white pumps because Whit was a religious bank holiday when we celebrated Pentecost and the Holy Spirit descending. Some of us still do. But a lot of people in Liverpool will be are celebrating three ships sailing in to the Mersey.
The last fortnight or so a lot of publicity has been given to Liverpool FC captain, Steven Gerrard, who is leaving our fair city for America. He’ll probably travel by jet but in the fifties most likely he would have gone by luxury liner. He could do the same now because over the last decade or so cruising has suddenly become extremely popular. So it’s not surprising that the Echo has given even more space in their newspaper to the arrival of the three Queens in the Mersey this weekend. They are the super duper liners, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and it isn’t only the city that has been alerted to their arrival. Thousands and thousands of visitors are expected to invade the waterfronts both sides of the Mersey, jostling to get the best view of this unusual sight.
My fellow Liverpudlian novelist Lyn Andrews is coming over from the Isle of Man to travel on one of the Queens. Her very first Liverpool based saga was called THE WHITE EMPRESS so it’s not surprising she has a strong link with Cunard liners. Elsie and Keith, a couple from my church, St Paul’s, Hatton Hill, are members of the Cunarders and will be sailing on the Queen Mary 2, having boarded the ship at Southampton and cruised to Cork and Dublin and then across the Irish Sea to Oban before sailing down the coast to Liverpool (if I have my facts right) before sailing to Guernsey. During the cruise they will celebrate their joint 87th birthdays. Even Carole and Norman, who own the b & b, in Ambleside where my husband and I stayed last week will be in Liverpool to join one of the Queens for a cruise.
THE QUEENS: This leads me to question why isn’t one of the liners named after a King of the British Isles? Why no King George VI? Even Henry VIII’s ship that sank in the 16th century was named after his sister the Mary Rose and one of the ships that sailed with Christopher Columbus was called the Santa Maria. The queen’s erstwhile royal yacht was named Britannia that A at the end signalling that she was regarded as feminine.
On the whole masculine names seemed to be used for fighting ships and aircraft carriers. My mother’s cousin’s ship was The Black Prince which was torpedoed during WW1 and sunk with the loss of hundreds of men.
Naturally as a writer of Liverpool based sagas I have used shipping and sailors in several of my novels. The book I remember most is FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY. For research I paid a visit to the Maritime Museum down by the Albert Dock. It had not long been open when I went there. I was able to go on a mock-up of one of the emigration ships with sound effects. I also purchased a copy of a slim book that gave all kinds of information about voyages to places such as Australia. I was able to discover the kind of food that was served. For further information about liners I bought a book called FALLING STAR Misadventures of White Star Line ships. The Titanic was one of them but it was some of the other tales which brought tears to my eyes. The book was extremely useful when it came to describing a collision between two ships in the fog in FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY.
I always try to use real names of ships in my books and so I was able to use the Corinthia in a recent novel IT’S NOW OR NEVER set in the fifties because my cousin, Maureen, had sailed on that ship to Canada.
I have crossed the Mersey by ferry numerous times and even cruised along the river one evening on the Royal Iris. I have crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland and the Isle of Man, as well as visiting the Isle of Skye and the isle of Iona in the Hebrides. It took some time before I crossed the English Channel to France and sailed round part of the coast of Crete.
But I have never been on a cruise on a big liner because my husband is a fell runner and so he prefers terra firma where there are mountains. If I did ever get the opportunity to go cruising I would choose to visit the fjords in Norway because that is the country where my mariner great-great- grandfather, Hance Nelson and his mariner son, Martin, my great-grandfather were born. Martin married a Liverpool lass from Toxteth. As it is for now I think I’ll just have to make do with gazing in wonder at the beautiful Queens of the Sea, Elizabeth, Mary 2 and Victoria.