For the incredibly wealthy, a ticket on the QE2 may have been small change. For some of the merely very rich, however, the purchase price was only to get them on board – after that, it was up to their own ingenuity to get upgraded as much and as often as they possibly could.
We learned to recognise these people as they came up the gangway – it wasn’t difficult; they were the ones already rumbling with discontent. Over the first few days of the cruise, they would find any number of things wrong with their accommodation on the less-than-salubrious 5 Deck – they were berthed next to a crew member; their bedside light didn’t work or their toilet didn’t flush properly; the tug hit their porthole window at some ungodly hour of the night and woke them up… The complaints were as varied as they were many. And, sooner or later, the purser would be forced to concede defeat, and upgrade the moaning minnies to more expensive accommodation.
But these cheapskates tripped themselves up in all sorts of ways.
One once took off her earrings while I styled her hair and then forgot to take them with her when she left. I put them in a drawer, intending to return them when I saw her again, but as it happened, the cruise ended shortly afterwards and I didn’t get the opportunity.
A month later, I cleaned out my drawers and threw the earrings away. As luck would have it, the very same day the security officer came to the salon. ‘A passenger has written to complain that she left behind some extremely valuable earrings,’ he said. ‘She’s threatening to sue if we don’t return them. She says they’re worth $250 000.’
‘I know exactly what earrings she’s talking about, and if she paid $25 for them, she was ripped off,’ I said. ‘I’ve thrown them away.’
The security officer shrugged. ‘It’s your word against hers. You’d better find them.’
I dispatched two members of my staff down to the ship’s recycling plant where, fortunately, they were able to locate the black rubbish bag I’d filled the day before. They scratched through it and came up with the earrings – which were, indeed, nothing but cheap tat. I wiped them off, wrapped them very carefully in tissue paper and mailed them back to the passenger. I’d like to believe she had a moment of deep embarrassment when she got them, but I’ve learned that some people are simply impossible to shame.
Then there were the passengers whose husbands had brought them on a QE2 world cruise and who couldn’t get over how lucky they were to have a spouse of such vision and largesse. One in particular – I’ll call her Mrs Jones – told me repeatedly how her husband valued and spoiled her. They’d been married for 35 years, she said, and he still treated her like a queen. Hadn’t he brought her on this astonishingly expensive holiday? Didn’t he allow – nay, encourage! – her to come to the salon every evening around 7pm for a relaxing, luxurious wash and blow? What a generous husband he was, how understanding, how lucky she was to be married to such a fine, fine man!
But I knew something that Mrs Jones didn’t (because – and make no mistake about this – a ship’s crew, like a hotel’s staff, know everything that’s worth knowing about their clients): that Mr Jones had an assignation of his own every evening at 7pm, in the spa hot pool, with any male crew member who was willing. While the sadly clueless but eternally grateful Mrs Jones was getting a blow from me, Mr Jones was getting one from one of my colleagues.
And there were ‘ordinary’ people who travelled on the QE2, for whom the cruise was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One of these was Mrs Van der Walt, a nasty snob who, when discussing with me the doings and screwings of her fellow passengers while in the chair, would turn up her nose in distaste and sniff, ‘Ja, Richard: soort soek soort, nê?’ (Afrikaans for ‘birds of a feather flock together’.) I always found it rather odd to have these strangely parochial little Afrikaans chats with Mrs Van der Walt on the QE2, surrounded as we were by largely sophisticated folk of many other nationalities.
Another was a dear old thing called Eve Goodie, a Dame Edna Everage lookalike whose hair simply couldn’t be big enough. She’d come in for a wash and set, and after I’d taken the rollers out, I’d spend some time teasing her hair up into a wild halo until it looked as if she’d just had ten thousand volts shot through her. Then I’d put down my comb, brush off my hands and walk away. ‘There, darling, you’re done!’ I’d say.
Eve loved this. ‘Richard!’ she’d squeal. ‘Come back!’
And so I would, and there would follow an immensely intricate process that involved smoothing, spraying, more teasing, more smoothing and yet more spraying. Eve loved hairspray.
Once, the salon was very busy. I’d almost finished with Eve but had to leave her for a few moments to attend to another client’s needs, and Eve didn’t like that – ‘Richard!’ she called petulantly. ‘You haven’t sprayed me yet!’
Eve was a beloved regular, so I pointed behind me to the shelf that held the hair products and said, ‘There’s the can. Take it down and give yourself a few squirts.’
What I hadn’t realised was that the hairspray was right next to the hair mousse, and that the two were in similar cans. When I next turned around, dear old Eve had all but disappeared under a mound of white fluff; she looked like a snowman.
She hadn’t looked at herself in the mirror yet, so I quickly whipped her into a chair, briskly removed the mountainous swirls of mousse, and applied liberal lashings of hairspray. Eve was delighted and her ’do, shored up by the mousse, stayed perfectly in place for the next two weeks.
* Supposedly said by English actor Ernest Thesiger (1879-1961) when asked at a dinner party what it had been like fighting in the trenches in World War I.
Next week we’ll have a look at some of the QE2’s super-wealthy passengers and the weird things they got up to. If you want to get a jump on that extract, buy the book – Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist. It’s available for kindle at amazon, here.