When the car arrived at Dover, Ruth gave a huge sigh of relief. It would be good to get out of the car and stretch her legs. Perhaps Aggie would watch the children while Ruth and John went for a spot of tea. John parked the Humber next to the dock. Moored there was a fabulous looking liner. How exciting, thought Ruth, I always wanted to go on an ocean cruise.
“Is that our boat,” asked Ruth.
“Yes,” said John, “I told you there would be nothing but the best for us on this trip.”
“I do hope we have an outside cabin,” said Ruth.
“I’m pretty sure we will,” said John.
“So how do we get the car on to the boat?”
Ruth watched as Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Daimlers pulled up beside the liner. One by one, the cars were loaded onto a winch and then lifted up and set down in the hold.
“When is our turn,” asked Ruth.
“Soon,” said John. “We need to wait for the Captain to arrive.”
Really, thought Ruth, welcomed on board by the Captain, how fancy.
“Here he comes now,” said John. And Ruth looked around.
Coming towards them was a scruffy looking man with a big white beard and cap. Ruth noticed that in one hand he was carrying a bottle. This can’t be right, she thought, that can’t be the captain of that liner. She turned her head a bit more and then she saw it. Tied up next to the liner was an old steam packet that had clearly seen better days. The hull was patched up, and the whole ship looked run down and worn. It looked as if it had never sailed for years, and Ruth was certain that the boat would probably go straight to the bottom if it did take to the sea.
“That’s not our ship is it,” she gasped in fright. “I’m not getting on board that heap of junk.”
The captain had arrived now and had heard Ruth’s remarks. “Heap of junk,” he exclaimed indignantly. “That is the finest boat from here to lands’ end.”
“Why aren’t we going on that ship?” asked Ruth and pointed to the liner, the SS Forte.
“Far too conspicuous,” said John. You mean expensive, thought Ruth.
Still, she would just have to make the best of it. Hopefully the rest of the tour would not be as shabby.
“Where are the rest of the orchestra?” she asked, “are they travelling with us?”
Just as Ruth spoke, a dilapidated bus pulled into the dock and parked up next to the Humber. The bus doors opened and out came the other musicians carrying Tubas, drums, flutes and even a glockenspiel.
“We can’t all fit on that little tub,” said Ruth.
“Of course, we can,” said John. Two rickety planks of wood were placed leading up from the dock and on to the boat. John started the car engine and began to edge his way up the planks, the right hand wheels on one plank and the left hand wheels on the other.
“Shouldn’t we get out and walk,” said Ruth. As she looked out of the car window and into the lapping waves. What will happen if the car slips off the edge, she thought.
“It’s fine,” said John, and revved up the car engine.
“Please slow down,” said Ruth as calmly as she could.
“Aye,” said Aggie, “take yir time. The last thing we want is tae end up in the drink. Ye ken I cannae swim.”
“Neither can I,” said Ruth.
“Don’t worry, ladies,” said John, “I can swim like a fish. If the car goes into the sea, then I’ll save you.”
Ruth did not find that very reassuring. She had an urge to grab one of John’s protruding ears and give it a good tug. But in the circumstances, she thought it might be better to let it go for now. She did not want to distract John, who, to be fair, was giving the task of edging the Humber up the planks all his attention. Better to just let him get on with it for now, she thought. Hopefully we won’t fall in.
Ruth could not help but wonder who, or what, John would save first if the car did fall in. Probably the violin, she thought.
Eventually, the car jolted off the planks and onto the deck of the boat. A ship hand indicated to John to pull forward and then another two sailors appeared out of nowhere and started tying the car down with bits of frayed old rope.
Ruth, Aggie and the twins climbed out of the car on to the deck.
They then turned and watched as the dilapidated bus edged its way up the gangplank. The wooden bridge seemed to sag dreadfully in the middle as the bus edged upwards. The bus seemed to be struggling to get up the slope, so the members of the orchestra ran up the gangway and pushed. One of the sailors ran down and attached a chain to the front of the bus and then started to winch the bus up the planks. Ruth was certain it was going to end in disaster, but, eventually, the bus was dragged and pushed onto the deck and made secure.
The members of the orchestra sat around the deck catching their breath.
“Right, time to cast off me lovers,” shouted the captain, and with remarkable agility and organisation, the sailors cast off, raised anchor and started the engine. The captain gave two blasts on the hooter and the boat started moving out of the harbour into the rougher water.
“Could you show us to our cabin,” Ruth said to one of the ship hands.
“Cabin, me lover,” said the sea hand, “Tain’t no cabins on this here boat, lessing you be meaning the privy.”
“Well where are we supposed to sit during the journey?”
“Follow them, to the salon,” said the hand, and pointed to the orchestra members who were going down below deck.
Ruth took one of the twins from Aggie, Charlotte she thought it was, and followed after them. Aggie came behind with Clementine.
The salon, consisted of a low room with benches along the side. Most of the seats were taken by the band members. The room was thick with cigarette smoke. Filthy habit, thought Ruth. Say what you would about John, at least he didn’t smoke.
As soon as everyone was settled down, and the boat cleared the harbour, it started to judder and a strange whining sound began to come from outside.
“What is going on,” said Ruth.
Suddenly the boat seemed to lift up above the waves.
“Watch the children, Agnes,” said Ruth, “I’m going to go on deck and see what is going on. And where is John?”
“Nay bother, dear,” said Aggie.
Ruth started climbing up the stair to the deck, and the boat seemed to shoot forward at great speed as the whine rose to a howling sound.
Pushing open the door, Ruth staggered on to the deck, as the boat pitched and tossed in the waves.
“John,” she shouted. “Where are you?”
Ruth could see John standing at the bow of the ship, and struggled over towards him.
“What is this?” asked Ruth.
“A top secret project, called a hover boat, we’ll be over the channel in no time.”
Ruth gripped hold of the rail and looked out. Below her, she could see the boat was riding on a black rubber skirt that was filled with air, and that the boat was moving faster than any boat she had ever seen. John put his arm around her waist.
“Close your eyes,” said John.
Ruth stretched her arms out like wings.
“I’m flying, John,” she said.
Ruth turned her head towards John and he kissed her on the lips, just as the boat plummeted down into the waves, sending spray up and soaking the two of them. Seagulls were gliding overhead and one of them pooped alarmingly close to them.
“Enough of this for now,” said Ruth. “We better get below before we get soaked, or before those seagulls crap all over us.”
“I suppose,” said John and led Ruth back to the salon.
The boat swayed and dipped as they settled back into the bench beside Aggie and the children. Ruth could feel her stomach lurching. And one of the twins was looking at her oddly. I know that look, she said to herself, with alarm. But just as Charlotte opened her mouth to vomit, the boat lurched and Charlotte spun around in Aggies arms. Ruth was spared, and even better, John got a face full of green undigested milk.
“I am enjoying this cruise,” Ruth said.
To be continued.