Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Significant Funding

Commenting on my recent post about sailing from Liverpool to New York Emily asked how I got the money for the passage on the RMS Sylvania.

Well my sister upfronted the money and I paid her back weekly at the rate of about $15 a week. (I was also expected to send $$ back to my mother as well which I did at least monthly till I was 21)

When I came in March of '58 I was on an easy to obtain visitor's visa which allowed 6months unlimited access to the U.S. as long as you didn't work here. It specified 'not allowed to work'. But we had a workable plan. Tom Halewood, my sister's husband, was the Chief Bartender on a British ship that sailed out of Newcastle every October and plied the NYC-Bermuda cruise route until the following September when it would return to Newcastle for a month of repairs etc.

We planned to ask the Chief Steward, Mr Ivor Atkinson, if there would be any way I could join the ship in New York. It took all of a week after my arrival on March 14th to arrange the deal and there I was, out to sea on the Queen of Bermuda and seasick again after only one week's respite. I was seasick for the two day transit to Hamilton and following 3 days of absolute joy in port in Bermuda, I was seasick for two days back to New York. They had given me a job as a Second Class waiter which meant I served the officers (not the Captain and his immediate staff but the lower level ones like the chief bartender......I was miserable looking at food for three meals a day and trying to make it to the gunwales before losing it.

Anyway, after they saw I was sick on the trip down to Bermuda and back they decided to try me for one more week of waitering. I was better on the second trip but still had nausea. Mr Atkinson told me to report to the Switchboard and -poof- I became a switchboard operator. This was much better for me as the switchboard was right in the middle of all the passenger activities.

As Lily Tomlin's doppelganger I normally did well. (That's one ringy dingy) Except for one day when we arrived back in NYC (at Pier 95). When we arrived back in New York we would always be hooked up manually to a line to shore. At other times only radio calls could reach the ship. Now, I had no idea about phone numbers in New York which in those times had prefixes such as Havemeyer or Plaza or Neimeyer. So when a senior officer asked me to call his wife at his home in NYC he said "Ring any21234 for me and get my wife" Well, I tried any 2(any 2 numbers)
And of course it didn't work. He came by again and repeated his request saying the number very carefully. Again I failed even though I varied the any two first numbers several times. Finally, another operator came by and clued me in that any2 was really Neimeyer or NE2.............oooh!

One night at sea I was on the switchboard when a radio call came through asking for ME. It was my sister in NYC telling me we needed to return to England rapidly upon arrival because of the health of my father.

I had just about finished paying off the debt I owed for the trip out to America and now we had to return to England. Because my sister worked for Alitalia we got cheap tickets somehow. Don't ask; I didn't. I had enough for the one-way plane ticket and a bit more to spare.

We were supposed to leave at 8pm on BOAC from Idlewild but the plane returned to the gate three times with mechanical problems and we finally left after midnight on the 14th June. We landed at Heathrow and that was the first time I had ever been to London. A bus over to Euston and a train to Runcorn. Next day my sister went to see Dad in hospital in Warrington; it was deemed unwise for me to go too as Dad would figure something was up. Do you believe it? Anyway he died the next day Monday the 16th and I never saw him again.

The next installment later.


Emily said...

This is great, Daddy. I love that you are documenting your history. I find it fascinating! And it helps me to read it to get the true story...I thought for some reason you worked on the ship that brought you over, not this other one to Bermuda. Good to get it straight!
And you are living "the American dream." I'm so proud of you.

Jennifer said...

Nausea is awful. People would rather be in pain. Cancer patients would rather be dead than live a few more days nauseated. It must've been awful for you on those boats! No wonder you look so skinny in the photos from then.

Looking forward to Ch. 3.

Anonymous said...