Published on August 12th, 2010 | by Ann Rickard0
Early bird catches the comfy couch
I’ve always been ahead of my time but I didn’t realise just how far until I heard P&O Cruises now has a program for couples to tie the knot aboard their favourite cruise ship. Romantic? Innovative? I did that 42 years ago. I married a man I’d known for only five weeks aboard a ship. Impressed? There’s more. I’m still married to him. Here’s how it happened, and I’ll be brief because no one wants to hear long-winded stories from old people about how they met their sweethearts years ago (even though my story is good). I stepped up the gangplank to board the MV Southern Cross in Southampton on a freezing December day in 1967 wearing in a tiny mini-skirt, to return to Australia after two years’ working in the UK. Day one, out to sea at the Captain’s welcome party, I spotted a tall quirky-looking man in officer’s uniform across the crowded room. I am good at spotting people across crowded rooms as I am taller than almost everyone else. When the tall quirky man in uniform ventured past me on his way to delivering a dry sherry with a maraschino cherry bobbing in it (we drank sophisticated cocktails in the ’60s) to a really old woman (she was probably all of 40), I was impressed with his manners. A young ship’s officer looking after old ladies – sexy. Daringly, I stopped him, flashed my mini-skirted legs and said I wanted to be introduced. His first words to me, ‘is that because I’m the only man in the room bigger than you?’, did not get us off to a rousing start and howwe hooked up is a small miracle. Maybe it was because I guessed his nerves made him rude, or maybe it was because he really was the only man in the room bigger than me. I won’t go into the details of what happened over the next five weeks as we sailed across vast oceans and into glamorous ports – it’s far too steamy for print – but it’s enough to say we fell feverishly in love under the most romantic of all circumstances. On arrival in Melbourne, I had to disembark. He had to sail away. After the most agonising day of my life, there followed eight agonising months with only letters to sustain the feverish love. When he finally returned, it was to Sydney, this time aboard a ship carrying a cargo of whiskey in barrels. I flew to Sydney where we reunited in suitable feverish style and decided to get married three weeks later when the ship unloaded the whiskey and sailed to New Zealand to pick up apples. We’d known each other for eight months, been together just five weeks, yet plans were made to get myself and my family to New Zealand for a wedding in his home town. Excitement. Then, while the ship was still in port in Sydney, one of the crew unable to contain himself with an entire hold of whiskey beneath him, crept down to the hold, tapped into one of the whiskey barrels, siphoned some off, left a hole, lit a cigarette. The ship caught fire, the firemen came, and the fire was put out. But the ship’s itinerary to New Zealand was cancelled and we knew not where it might sail from Sydney. “We must get married, right here, right now,” I said, because if that ship sailed off to parts unknown with my quirky tall officer on it, it might be another eight months before it came back, and by then it wouldn’t matter because I’d be dead from unfulfilled feverish love. If we were married, you see, I was able to sail with the ship. (The ’60s remember, people were not permitted to co-habit unless they were married.) A special marriage licence was obtained, a wedding dress borrowed, a crowd rented. But married in three days’ time we were – on the Captain’s bridge on a fire-damaged ship in port with a bunch of strangers getting smashed on stolen whiskey. The next day I sailed into a future I could never have dared dream would be mine. Read more of Ann on www.annrickard.com.