Chapter Eleven

Back to Sea Again

I reported to the Chief Steward on arrival and he gave me a key and told me that my cabin was situated next to the ‘nightclub’ on B Deck. He also told me to get my equipment and get to work immediately as the passengers were to be given a send off party by the Captain. I was a little shocked as I thought that I would have at least had time to read the book I had just bought on how to develop one’s own pictures. I had lied to get the job by saying that I already knew how to run a darkroom. The fact is that I had a very basic idea but I was expected to take all the photos and then develop, print and display them for sale all in the same day. I made my way to my cabin as the ship slipped her moorings and headed out to sea.

My cabin was very small. It had a double-tier bunk and I was to sleep on the top bunk. The bottom bunk was the home of a large drying machine which was used to fast dry the photos. At one end of the bunk was a small desk with an enlarging machine. Next to that was the sink and at the other end of the bunk was a metal cabinet. I opened the cabinet to find two very old ‘Leica’ cameras and an antiquated flashgun; the kind that requires a very large rechargeable battery. This battery one carries in a sling over the shoulder. I picked it up and it must have weighed several kilos. The cameras were also very heavy in comparison to modern equipment. At the side of the cameras on the shelf were an amount of reloadable film spools and a large flat tin containing 1,000 feet of film. That was my first ‘Oh No’. I had never reloaded my own film spools before and considering it had to be done in total darkness, it seemed like a major task but I did get on with trying. I sat there at the desk in total darkness fumbling & feeling, cutting and crimping for what seemed like ages. Eventually I got the knack and loaded several spools. I put the light back on and looked at my watch – 8:30 pm – I had been at it for an hour and a half, I’d better get to work.

I donned my tuxedo, loaded my cameras, put the flash and cameras on my shoulders and set off to do my duty. The dinner was almost over and so I took a few shots at the tables and then followed the crowds to the lounge area. The ship was beginning to roll and the equipment around my neck was becoming very heavy. As I entered the lounge, I noticed two old ladies sitting on a sofa. In front of them was a low glass-topped table and behind the sofa was a very large framed picture of the ship. One of the old ladies called me to take a picture of them. I prepared my shot to encompass the picture of the ship in the background. The ship was really rolling a lot by now but I tried to ignore it. The ladies smiled just as I took the picture. The ship rolled and with the heavy equipment round my body and the fact that I was slightly off balance as I took the shot; I lurched forwards. The cameras were swinging dangerously towards the old ladies. I was about to trip over the low table and so in an instant, I took evasive action and jumped into the air. I smashed into the picture above the ladies. The glass went flying in all directions except on the lucky old ladies. I smashed the lens of one of the cameras and cut my hand. The Chief took me to the Sick Bay and I had my hand treated. I did not bother to return to work as I now had a good excuse. I returned to my Cablab to practice develop the photos that I had taken.

Now the book said to put the negatives in developing fluid but which was the developing fluid? There were two 5-gallon containers of fluids in the cabin but the labels were printed in Greek. Obviously one of them was developing fluid and the other was fixer, but which was which? I experimented with both until I got some significant results. At first the photos came out in sepia but after further experimentation, I eventually succeeded in printing a reasonable photo.

I consulted my watch again. It was 5am. I had been practising for about seven hours but even though my hand was throbbing from the pain of the cut and also aggravated by the action of the chemicals, I was now a proficient developer & printer. I went to bed feeling good.

The next day I did quite well taking the pics around the ship and in the evening displaying and selling them. The people on the cruise were mainly old and middle aged. I remember one man in particular. He was a very loud-mouthed American who never seemed to be without a beer can in his hand. He seemed dangerous. I tried to take his picture but he told me in a very aggressive manner to get lost. I made a mental note to stay out of his way.

I met a young couple who came from Preston. They remembered the Catacombs club and so I felt as though they were old friends. The girl was about 17 and the boy in his early twenties. It soon became obvious that they were only good friends. The girl would often visit my Cablab whilst I was working late at night. Often she would arrive just that little bit tiddly. She would complain how hard it was to remove her clothes. The temptation was just too much for me and so I could not resist pillowing with her.

Xmas Eve arrived and there was a grand party in the nightclub. The festivities were well under way when the Chief Steward arrived with several free crates of champagne. The stewards opened the bottles and passed them around. My friends were dancing at the time and so I took a bottle from the crate and put it on their table for them. They were sitting away from the main group of passengers because the loud-mouthed American was becoming quite abrasive. The couple were in fact enjoying their own company. I was busy shooting roll after roll of film and I had also helped myself to a few glasses of bubbly and so I was also a little high.

During one of the activities, I tried to take a group photo but the loud-mouthed American once again told me to get to hell. My temper was rising but I realised that he was a paying passenger and that I was simply an employee. The night was drawing to an end and the champagne was finished, well almost, for my two friends still had half a bottle. The American slob saw the half bottle and when the young couple went to dance, he picked up the bottle. He was just about to pour it down his gullet straight from the bottle when I grabbed his arm and told him not to be a pig with somebody else’s Xmas present. He dropped the bottle to the deck and charged towards me like a mad bull. He was totally out of control. I had my cameras to worry about so I could not afford to let him grab hold of me. I side stepped and gave him a quick hook to the jaw followed by a rabbit chop. He was down on the deck screaming like a plucked turkey. The Chief Steward arrived and immediately ordered me to my cabin. I left without hesitation.

Once alone in my cabin, I had time to think. I had a record for violence so I could not afford to be convicted again. I would surely get sentenced to many years in prison. I was contemplating the situation when the young couple arrived. They had a list signed by over 40 passengers who were present at the party. They all signed the piece of paper written by the couple to say that the American slob had been making a nuisance of himself all through the voyage and that I only acted in self defence.

The next day I was called before the Captain. I showed him the paper and explained that I was in fact only defending my equipment as the slob was threatening to expose my film because I had taken a picture of him during a group shot. The Captain said that he understood but that the slob could bring charges against me on our return if he wanted. I asked the Captain to call the slob to his cabin whilst I was there. He agreed and when the slob arrived, I swallowed my pride and apologised. Then I gave to him the piece of film which he was on. He told me that I had better keep out of his way for the remainder of the voyage. As he was always in the nightclub or the casino it rather limited my earning capacity. Never mind, I thought, I’ll have more time to enjoy the voyage.

On New Year’s Eve there was another party and so the young couple and I decided to take the LSD. The ship was at sea and the sea was really quite lively. We took the acid and enjoyed our hallucinations. My cabin became so small and so we went to their cabin. The sea seemed to get rougher and the couple began to become afraid. We mutually agreed to take our clothes off and the three of us went to bed with a bottle of champagne. We played lots of bed games before finally falling asleep.

On our return to Liverpool, the photo company’s manager was waiting for me. He came on board to find out how I had got on but when I told him what happened he changed his tune. He was disgusted at the little amount of money that I had earned but I told him the story of the American slob. He said that in all his 12 years in the business he had never heard such a story. I was fired. I packed up all my gear and waited on deck to disembark. As I waited, watching the passengers get off the ship, I noticed two men on the dockside who were obviously police. I recognised them as such even though they were in plain clothes.

I thought this is it, they’re waiting for me, that fat American slob has gone back on his word. I’m going back to prison. I was convinced that he had when I saw him walk down the gangplank and the police approached him. How wrong I was, for the next thing that I saw was the American being handcuffed and then unceremoniously bundled into a police van. I found out later that he was a small-time crook that had gotten too big for his boots and swindled his ‘partners’ out of a lot of money. He just didn’t know how to handle all the cash and set about spending it. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut either and his partners decided that they had had enough and tipped off the police. I left the ship feeling elated and justified.