Barry tells us he was going to put his latest memoir on onevalefan’s front page last Thursday. But as we all now know February 12, 2004 proved to be a huge Red Letter Day with the changing of managers – Brian saying goodbye to us whilst we, in turn, welcomed Martin to the helm. Since then we’ve had a win against Oldham putting us in the playoff zone.
Ann’s out watering the pot plants at the moment so I decided to check in on our ovf family – time and dateline 11.45pm January 28, 2004. Five minutes later I’m reading Tiara’s post about her and hubby missing out on a days pay due to being gridlocked by the bad weather.
The memories of winter in Britain remain indelible on my psyche with plummeting temperatures and freezing conditions being the norm. As a boy we would enjoy such seasons making snowmen (sorry pc brigade, that’s what we called them), throwing snowballs at each other and sledding down any embankment available. But as an employee of Co-op Dairy delivering milk out Loggerheads way it was an entirely different kettle of fish altogether. Or should that be ‘bucket of snow’.
One particular mid winter in 1953 will be remembered for bleak and freezing weather with abnormally high tides and winter gales wreaking the greatest havoc along the entire eastern seaboard. In Greater London places like Canvey Island (ring a bell anyone?) literally disappeared below the water line.
For the same period in 2003 Britain again suffered from similar weather with disastrous effect. But fifty one years ago it was impossible to pick-up a newspaper that didn’t carry harrowing headlines with stories and pictures of death and destruction. A chilling comparison I know – with no disrespectful pun intended.
Where was I? Oh yes, Tiara bemoaning lost pay due to icy roads and wishing to be in a sunnier clime. Perhaps, she thought, they could migrate to Australia? But quickly stated it would have to be by ship, not ‘plane. Yours truly recommended the former saying she and hubby would not be disappointed. In making such a recommendation it took me back in time to 1960 when my mum, dad, my sister Jocelyn and yours truly came to Oz on the SS Orsova (see below) and one particular stopover in Colombo Fort, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Colombo is situated on the Indian Ocean side of Ceylon in the mouth of the Kelani River and was our last port of call before destination Fremantle, Western Australia. In company with my mate Pete and several other emigrant teenagers we set about site seeing in and around its ancient and timeless thoroughfares.
Colombo was a mixture of Sinhalese/Portuguese/Dutch and British architecture. Some of the street names and landmarks were easy to pronounce. Such as: Queen’s, Prince Street and Gordon Garden. Others were not so easy to get our tongues around. Still, we were truly enjoying the day and being distracted by Sinhalese and colonial charms. So much so that when we heard the long sound of a ship’s horn drifting in from the nearby port it did not occur to me that it was the Orsova’s signal for all passengers to embark within the hour. I was daydreaming and had lost track of time.
Now, where did that behaviour come from?
Not for the first time had a much younger Aussie Rules been distracted to the point of being separated from his family when on day trips to North Wales. It was so easy when there was so much to see and do. Such as: building sand castles with buckets and spades and putting paper flags on them; eating candyfloss, fish and chips and ice-creams; riding on the bumpers; losing money in penny arcade slot machines; walking the promenade; riding the ponies; watching Punch and Judy; and generally wandering off in a world of my own. But my parents were always one step ahead of my wanderings and from the very beginning instructed me to go to the nearest policeman or police station should I find myself absolutely lost. I was to give my name and address, explain my predicament and ask if I could wait until they came to collect me. You know what? It worked a treat.
“That’s our ship, it’s leaving without us!” screamed Pete. But yours truly was not convinced saying something along the lines of ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got stacks of time to get back on board’ as we proceeded to make our way back to the docks. Or so I thought.
When we arrived at the landings the Orsova was turning around in the harbour preparing to steam out to open sea – the sight of which created more than mild panic in our little group. At the same time the Harbour Master’s pilot boat was retuning to dock. By now we were shouting to anybody who might care to hear “That’s our ship! That’s our ship!” with mild panic fast giving way to abject fear of being left behind in a strange land. This was definitely not the time to be looking for a policeman or police station. We wanted only to be back on board the Orsova.
It seemed an eternity before the Harbour Master was standing in front of a very frightened little group of teenagers. His smile should have eased our worried minds. But all we could do was to keep pointing to the Orsovo and shouting the same thing over and over again. Blind panic was taking over fast.
Looking back I’m still not sure how the Harbour Master gained our attention. But he did. With our minds in turmoil he explained to us that the ship’s company was aware of our absence and that he had been instructed to return and find us and to get us back to the ship. In the meantime the captain had instructed that the Orsova be prepared for departure as soon as we were on board and that we should embark via the port side lower deck.
When finally making our way back on board we were met by a senior crew member and our mums and dads – plus our respective siblings’ hell bent on not missing out to smugly enjoy our moment of being ticked off in disgrace.
For many of the passengers it was the stuff of shipboard humour and ribbing for the rest of the long sea journey between Ceylon and Western Australia.
See you later…
January 28, 2004