Spring flings in England

After 2 weeks in a closed environment in which I was almost always the youngest person in any gathering (and that by quite a long way), I was desperate to spend some time with a few age peers – although obviously that wasn’t the only reason I was so keen to see my friends. So it was with great relief and anticipation that I stepped off the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton.

England was, of course, cold and wet (as is obvious in the movie above) – but the debarking process at the Southampton docks was so slick and trouble-free that it almost made up for the weather. And despite the rain and mist, it was a special day for Cunard too – when the Queen Mary 2 left Southampton later that day, en route to New York, it was joined by the two other ‘queens’ in the Cunard fleet – the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Victoria. There are some lovely pics here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3066199/Cunard-s-luxury-ocean-liners-come-fourth-time-Southampton-begin-175th-anniversary-celebrations.html

My ex-South African friends Michele, Chris and Ruth have all lived (separately) in the UK their entire adult lives. They were among my closest friends in Cape Town in the mid to late 1980s, when we all worked as juniors at various jobs, earning very little money, lived in communes with a range of folk (some odder than others; and sometimes we were the odd ones), and drove jalopies if we were lucky enough to have a car at all (we were often reliant on bicycles or other people with cars). We jolled at the River Club, played pool at The Lounge in Long Street or Stones in Obs, danced at Deviate, smoked zol in the outside roof-garden at The Loft, had late-night Irishes at Café Camissa, and slummed it at the Crow Bar or the George.

We haven’t all been together in 27 years (since my 1988 wedding), and we wouldn’t be on this trip either, as Ruth had to go to America on business, but we grabbed what time was available to us, and I spent Sunday with Ruth and her family at their lovely home in the Hog’s Back in Surrey.

me and Ruth 1987

Above: Me and Ruth in 1987 (at our commune in New Church Street, Cape Town)

Below: Me and Ruth in 2015 (in Ruth’s garden in Surrey, UK)

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Dersy real English Sunday lunch

Above: As if I hadn’t been spoilt enough for food on the Queen Mary 2, the Derseys treated me to a full-on English roast Sunday lunch – cooked, a little ironically, by Julien, a Frenchman.

The Dersys

Above: The Derseys at home – Annabel, Ruth and Julien.

Ruth and Anni

Above: Ruth (on piano) and Anni (on violin)

On the Monday, I travelled by rail to Ashford International – and it’s worth a word here about two things: the price of public transport (and everything else) in the UK; and the lack of clear and understandable rail timetables – something that put the Gautrain’s ridiculously opaque ticket-buying system at Johannesburg International airport into perspective.

First, South Africans spending rands are dead in the water in the UK. Not only is the exchange rate risible (it was about 18 to 1 when I was there; I think it’s nearer 20 to 1 today), our actual spending power in the face of the astonishingly high cost of living in the UK is so weak as to be almost nonexistent. So, thank god for my lovely lovely friends, who paid for all my rail travel while I was there, and also, for that matter, for everything else.

As for the rail timetables – Ruth and I asked a few different people how I should go about getting to Ashford International, which seemed to involve several changes. The guy at the ticket counter gave us information that was dead wrong. A helpful commuter who looked online on her phone for us while we waited on the platform got it half-right. And the only reason I actually ended up in the right place was because a train driver, seeing me sitting reading a book on some random platform in the southeast of England, took it into my his head (for reasons I don’t know) to ask me if I was waiting for the Ashford International train. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Well, this is it,’ he said, pointing. ‘You’d better get on right now – I’m about to close the doors.’

Michele had had a more successful rail journey southwards, and was waiting at Ashford International with Chris when I arrived there.

me and Michele 1987

Above: Me and Michele in 1987 (at Lady Anne Barnard’s Garden, Groot Constantia, Cape Town)

Below: Michele and me in 2015 (in Rye, UK)

Michele and me in Rye

Chris and me 1987

Above: Chris and me in 1987 (at Algeria campsite, Cedarberg, western Cape)

Below: Chris and me in 2015 (in Dungeness, Kent, UK)

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The three of us set off to Chris’s Dungeness home in his trusty little Land Rover, stopping briefly en route to have a look at the small farm where he aims to breed alpacas. (The farm is beautiful and alpacas are gorgeous – what a goodlooking new career Chris is going to have!)

Chris’s house at Dungeness (a headland on the wild coast of Kent, made largely of a shingle beach, and loomed over by a gigantic nuclear power station) is every bit as interesting as the place itself. It looks – like all the other shacks in the area – modest from the outside; inside, it’s a little work of art.

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The burnt-out shell of a train carriage, roughly refurbished on the outside and with every necessary modcon inside, is Chris’s kitchen – it’s sited within the ‘bowl’ of the wineglass-shaped house, with the ‘open’ part of the wineglass made up of a huge window facing the sea.

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Chris's house from teh lighthouse 3

Above: The view of Chris’s house from the lighthouse (his house is second from the right).

Below: The view of the lighthouse from inside Chris’s house (from his bedroom)

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Below: Fun with friends – a walk along the shingle at Dungeness; ‘at the beach’ (haha); Chris and Michele in front of the power station; me and Chris in a real English bluebell wood.385

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It’s such a sad truism that all good things must come to an end, and I wasn’t happy to leave first Chris, as Michele and I set off on our train journey back to London; and then Michele, after we’d negotiated the Tube to St Pancras and I’d found the Heathrow Express. But it was good to see my dad again at Heathrow after a week apart (he’d spent time with his UK family), and I was excited to get home after 3 weeks away.

I loved every second of my trip but it was marvellous beyond words to get back to my kids of all kinds (flesh, fur and feathers), and also to South Africa’s wonderful climate, beautiful wide-open spaces, and lovely people of every colour and culture.

We do indeed have our problems in South Africa but we live in such a gorgeous country, with interesting and largely well-meaning and hardworking people (excluding, obviously, practically everyone at almost every level of the ANC government). For South Africans who aren’t as lucky as I’ve been this year, and get an opportunity to step outside our borders for a while and see what’s happening elsewhere in the world, and also to miss home, let me reassure you: the grass may be greener on the other side, but that’s just because it rains there all the time!

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Cruising on the Queen Mary 2

288Embarking the QM2 in Cape Town — at last, after a 4-hour wait at the Cape Town Convention Centre.

A fabulous, fascinating and unforgettable fortnight of living the life of the rich and idle definitely proved two things for me: I’m not rich and I’m not idle.

I’m also not a cruiser (in the non-sexual sense; actually, in both senses). To be a cruiser, you have to be over 60 at least, and a person of means. As Richard Wood so accurately said in our book Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist, ‘A ticket on the QE2, even the cheapest one, costs what most people would consider a modest fortune.’

The same applies to the QM2. On the trip I did in April-May, from Cape Town to Southampton, even the ‘special’ tickets, sold off at the last minute to fill the inside cabins (those without portholes), cost ₤300 – almost R5 500. You may think this is an absolute steal for a two-week all-meals-and-accommodation-included trip on a luxury cruise-liner, but don’t forget that you still have to fork out the price of a one-way air ticket home, which can set you back anything between about R8 500 and R12 000; plus ground transfer from the port to an airport in the UK, where public transport is pricey; and add to that the $172.50 (about R2 000) ‘mandatory gratuity’ extracted from each passenger for that leg, and you’re beginning to realise that even the cheapest ticket comes at a hefty price – around R17 000 at the very least.

I didn’t pay that, incidentally. I was there as a guest of my father (a freeloader, in other words). My Dad was lecturing on board the ship, and our passages were paid for by Cunard. And because I brought on board my pathetic and meagre South African rands, I happily stuck to only the free stuff. There was plenty of that, and certainly enough of it to keep anyone with the slightest inkling of ingenuity occupied for a fortnight. (One friend, when I told her I was going to do this cruise, said, ‘Oh, you’ll hate it! Friends of mine did it and they were so bored!’ I can’t understand how – there’s a jampacked itinerary of free things to do every day, delivered to your stateroom every night so you can plan your activities.)

There’s also lots of stuff you have to pay for, but only thrice did that become a problem for me. The first time was as we were departing Cape Town, and I wildly ordered a whiskey and soda to enjoy while sitting on the deck like a millionaire and looking back over the Mother City. It came to the equivalent of about R125, and I realised that it was just as well I’m a near-teetotaller, because if you like your tipple, it’s gonna cost you. (I did have other, occasional whiskey-and-sodas, for which my father paid – thanks, Dad!)

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Cape Town from the deck of the Queen Mary 2, April 2015

The second time was when I had a bad headache, and I popped in to the onboard chemist to buy some painkillers. They only had Neurofen, at $30 (about R350) per packet, and my headache instantly and magically cleared up.

The third time was when my Dad and I attended a Captain’s cocktail party (with about a gazillion other people, so no great honour), and got an official photograph with the top dog. Of course I wanted to buy it, but I thought $25 (about R300) a pop was a bloody cheeky. So instead I slunk into the photo gallery and took a picture of the picture with my phone.

pic of pic - Dad and me with captain

A free pic of a R300 pic: the captain with my father and me at a drinkie-poo do.

I wasn’t the only person irritated by the userous price of the prints (and other things). I stood behind a woman in the queue at the purser’s desk (about which more in a future post) who, waving around what I assume was a bank slip, had this to say to the purser: ‘I’ve been charged almost R1 000 for three prints. Do you know what we get in South Africa for R1 000? We get a photographer and a makeup artist, and they take pics not only of us, but also of our kids and our dogs!’ She was politely cheered by a few other people in the queue, clearly feeling as stung.

This unnecessarily high price of the official pictures was representative of the slightly unpleasant money-grabby atmosphere on board, which did get to me now and again. A 15% service charge was slapped onto everything (and that was in addition to the ‘mandatory gratuity’), for instance. I overheard another South African grumbling about how much everything cost: ‘We’re just a captive audience with open wallets,’ he said. I also noticed that while everyone had been very keen to pose for the QM2 photographers at the beginning of the trip, by the time we reached Las Palmas and they were offering to take shots of us as we debarked, most people waved them away.

me and Dad in Los Palmas

My Dad and me in Las Palmas, Canary Islands – this pic wasn’t taken by the QM2 photographers and didn’t cost me R300.

But of course the trip wasn’t only about spending money – or rather, trying to find ways not to spend money — and I’ll be sharing more stories about my adventures on the QM2 in future posts.

  • You can buy a copy of Life on a Permanent Wave here or here.

Thanks for your support, QE2 readers!

016When Richard and I started writing “Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist”, it was before the full horrific extent of 2009 financial crash was felt around the world, and several publishers showed interest. By the time we’d finished the manuscript, American banks had been revealed to be spoilt irresponsible teenagers who had, with characteristic thoughtless selfishness, dragged the entire globe down with them into their slough of despond, and publishers had chopped their lists to the very bare minimum. As one told me at the time, “We’re publishing nothing that we’re not 100% sure will be a bestseller.”

Long story short, we finally published it ourselves through Amazon’s Kindle platform (initially) and then did a paperback version through Amazon’s CreateSpace platform. We knew that it was a route that would never make us rich – in fact, after almost a year of steady sales, we still haven’t reached Amazon’s minimum royalty amount to even be worth sending a royalty cheque to! – but we were just thrilled to see it in print at last.

We’re very, very grateful for every purchase of the book, and also for your reactions, which have been so encouraging. There’s plenty of great feedback on Richard’s FaceBook page (see 16 August in particular), and the reviews on the two main amazon sites (.com and .co.uk) are fantastic. Here are a few.

“Loved this book! Very funny, and great preparation for my next cruise. Also, it just made a couple of boring flights go a lot faster. Many thanks, Richard Wood!” – J. Collins

“It took me back to those decadent days of ship life, especially on my favourite one, the QE2. A most excellent read from the halcyon days of ship life.” – Jason Sloan

“A great read! Being a Steiner was once my ambition but alas life got in the way and it never quite happened. Reading this made me feel like I had lived it and I enjoyed every moment.” – Sarah

“An absolute must for Cunard fans, passengers and crew. I couldn’t put it down and had to keep reading.” – Angus J Cameron

“A great read. It’s full of laughs, love and life. It truly reflects a bygone age of cruising in every meaning of the word. Around-the-world stories from a well-rounded author.” – Andrew Allen

“Brings back so many great memories. Read it in a day and laughed out loud for most of it! Great read for all ex Steiners.” – Keeley Godwin

“What a glorious read! I’ve heard so many stories from my older gay friend about ‘life at sea’, but those stories pale in comparison to this first-hand account! This book is an easy read, great for a Sunday afternoon.” – Daniel Hawkins

“This book captured the essence of what it was like to be on the QE2! Filled with so many hilarious experiences and eye-opening revelations, I couldn’t put it down! Well worth the read!” – Jess

“A must-read for anyone who’s ever worked at sea. A real insight into the below-decks goings-on of a cruise liner. Laughed out loud.” – Sheila Spreeth

“Hilarious! A must-read.” – Shane Monroe

For those of you who haven’t got your copy yet, visit Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com for either the kindle or paperback version.

If you’re still unsure whether it’s worth the bucks and the bother, here are a few extracts for you to test the water…

* Oh my dear! The noise, and the people!

* The bobbitted giraffe and other tall tales from the QE2

 * Running over whales at sea

 

 

 

 

 

‘I absolutely loved it’

 

That’s a direct quote from Nesha Wakelin, a happy reader of Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist. ‘Although I was a Carnival [cruise lines] girl and the book is mainly about the QE2, I absolutely loved it and it bought back some amazing memories,’ she wrote on her Facebook page. ‘While reading the book I felt like I was living in that world again. I recommend anyone who has worked on ship buy this book.’
blue cover
Take Nesha’s word for it! If you don’t have your copy yet, there are various ways you can get one.

Buy the paperback
If you’re not South African (and therefore not hobbled by a weak currency), the paperback is very affordable through mail order. It’s available from amazon, here.

If you are South African and you live in the Western Cape, please speak to Richard about ordering a copy from him.

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If you pre-ordered a book from Richard, it’s arrived – here he is, above, at his salon Just Gorgeous, with the books.

We sold this first batch of paperbacks for R160 per copy but we’re going to have to up this to R180 per copy for future sales. This is mainly because we do have to pay shipping/postage on the copies we order in bulk. According to a highly placed source in the local publishing industry, that isn’t an outrageous price for a paperback – she says that it’s not uncommon to pay upwards of R220 for a similar book in a bookstore.

Get the e-book for Kindle
Available here.

Get an e-book you can read on your PC, Mac or smartphone
The app is downloadable for free when you buy the book – details here.

If you have any questions, please email me at traceyhaw@mweb.co.za

Rubbing shoulders with royalty

During my time on the QE2 I met many members of the Royal Family, from the Queen Mum and Princesses Anne and Margaret, down to some of the ‘lesser’ royals. And in 1990 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh transferred from the royal yacht Britannia to the QE2 by royal barge, and the Queen became the first reigning monarch to sail on a commercial line with passengers.

Princess Di

People often ask me if I’d met Princess Diana, and if so, what I thought of her. I did meet her, and I didn’t think much. To be fair to Di, the circumstances were shambolic: it was in 1987, and she’d come on board to host what was then one of the largest children’s parties afloat, with 500 schoolkids running riot all over the place, like mice let out of paper bags. The ship had sailed with the children to the Isle of Wight, which is where we picked up Princess Di – she’d been helicoptered there, and was transferred to the QE2 by barge in the pouring rain.

Di was damp and bedraggled and, ahead of the formalities and festivities, which were to be attended by the press and any number of other hangers-on, needed a quick fixer-up. One of the QE2’s senior staff came into the salon and instructed me to ‘fit her in’.

I paused in what I was doing and said to him, ‘You must be kidding. Look around.’ The salon was heaving – every chair was full, every dryer was in use, every stylist was working their fingers to the bone, and there were people queuing out the door.

‘She’s the Princess of Wales,’ he hissed. ‘Fit. Her. In.’

I was still muttering under my breath when a small commotion followed by a strange silence changed the atmosphere in the salon: the Princess had arrived. She was surrounded by a security detail and as many people as could get close to her. Giving me a quick, apologetic smile, she slipped into the seat I had, somewhat grumpily, vacated for her. Perhaps she was aware of the inconvenience she’d caused; maybe my thin-lipped irritation was obvious; or it could just have been her natural shyness: whatever the reason, she sat quietly and a little nervously, her hands clutched together in her lap, while I dried and styled her hair. We didn’t exchange a single word.

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One of my mom Greta’s proudest moments in my career came when I was almost made hairdresser to the Queen. It came about in a curiously low-key way, with a Steiner bigwig coming on board and showing me a diagram of a hair set. ‘Would you be able to follow this?’ he asked. I looked at it and said yes – it was a very simple style. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘because Queen Elizabeth’s hairdresser is about to retire and we’re looking for a new one.’

Queen Elizabeth

My name was put forward but this was at a time when ‘buying British’ had become a national obsession and even Princess Di was under fire for having a Mercedes Benz when a Rover would have done just as well. So I, a South African, lost the job of Hair to the Throne to one of Steiner’s senior hairstylists, Ian Carmichael.

Ian, a Scotsman, was known for his outrageous behaviour in the QE2’s public rooms. One of his party tricks was to casually sling a leg up over his partner’s shoulder while dancing. And he didn’t confine his acrobatics to shipboard. Once, at the end of the charter in Osaka in Japan, Ian went ashore with a group of hairdressers for a celebratory night out. They got completely plastered and, returning to the dock, decided to show Osaka what they were all about: they would, they decided, do a ‘Fame’ dance, using the cars parked up and down the harbour as a stage set.

For anyone who doesn’t remember the movie Fame, which came out in 1980, and followed a group of students through their studies at the New York High School of Performing Arts, there’s a dance sequence in it, to the Irene Cara song ‘Fame’, in which the lithe and athletic students dance on cars parked in the street.

Alas for Ian and his cohorts: if they were lithe when in a sober state, drunk, they were like a troupe of baby elephants. Much damage was done to the vehicles they cavorted across, including broken windscreen wipers and rearview mirrors, dented bonnets and fenders, and the like. There was, of course, hell to pay for it the next morning.

When Ian was hired by Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, who starred in Quantum of Solace in 2008, to do her hair for red-carpet appearances, I was amused to read that he admitted that Olga and the Queen opt for ‘very different hairstyles’. ‘Queen Elizabeth has always gone for the traditional look, one that’s easy for her to maintain; it’s her look and she is happy with it,’ he told reporters. Then he showed a flash of his former flamboyance when he added, ‘It’s been a case of my work going from ‘‘By Appointment To The Queen’’ to ‘‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’’!’

I often think about that hair-set diagram I was shown when I see the Queen making public appearances on television today: from that day to this, not a thing about her hairstyle has changed; Ian is evidently still following that diagram.

As for my mother: she was bitterly disappointed that I’d missed out on my opportunity to become part of the Royal entourage – particularly since she’d already started bragging to her friends about it.

* Here’s some hairstyle advice for older women from Mr Carmichael himself: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2379692/The-Queens-stylist-says-older-women-make-big-mistake-cutting-hair-short-bid-look-young.html

 

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For more stories about hair and hectic times on the QE2, buy your own ebook for kindle at amazon – details here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GC6YCCI

 

The bobbitted* giraffe and other tall tales from the QE2

giraffe

There were passengers who thought nothing of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds for prime accommodation on the QE2’s world cruises. For these regulars, the liner became a home-away-from-home on which they would spend four months of each year. One of these was Mr Goldberg, a ghastly name-dropper who had, after his wife passed away, married her nurse – in fact, he and the nurse had come onto the ship at Fort Lauderdale and got married on board; I was responsible for the hair for that wedding.

Over eight of the years I worked on the QE2, Mr Goldberg forked out for eight penthouses every year – for himself, his wife and his business manager. I once asked the second Mrs Goldberg why they needed eight penthouses for just the three of them. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we have a castle on the Isle of Wight and a mansion in Florida, so we’re used to a lot of space. And if we didn’t have all this room,’ she said, sweeping an arm out to indicate the £100 000-odd worth of accommodation her husband had rented, ‘we’d probably start feeling a little claustrophobic.’

The second Mrs Goldberg, despite being married to a man of obscene wealth, had never really become accustomed to the high life. She was shy, and didn’t like to come to the salon; instead, I would go to her penthouse every Tuesday and Friday to style her hair. There, I discovered that, in spite of having her choice of the most delectable foods prepared by some of the best chefs, she preferred to make her own breakfast and lunch – and usually something very simple, like a bowl of muesli or a boiled egg on toast. For this purpose, she brought on board with her a range of the most fabulous kitchen equipment – and at the end of each world cruise, she would present me with a box of used (but only barely) silverware, glassware, cutlery and crockery.

Mr Goldberg, for his part, was simply terrified of change. He was very specific about how he wanted his hair – it was always to look precisely the same. He would book his weekly appointments with me a year in advance – he had the 10am slot every Thursday, for an invisible trim-and-style, and a manicure. He would sweep into the salon at 10 on the dot, and he required that I was always ready, holding his chair out for him, and that the manicurist was so placed that as he sat down, his hands would land in hers, ready to be pampered.

As if money breeds madness, there were always eccentrics on board. One was a charming but totally batty old dear, Mrs Macky, who regularly took two prime staterooms on the world cruises – one for herself and one for her vast collection of stuffed animals, which were as real and alive to her as anyone else’s flesh-and-blood pets. There were close on a hundred of these fluffy toys, and each was individually dressed in a beautiful, hand-sewn outfit.

Mrs Macky was scrupulous about giving each of her ‘pets’ individual attention, and could be seen with a different one at various times of the day – the stuffed bunny, for instance, would accompany her to breakfast; the toy bear would require its own seat next to her in the salon while we did her hair; a fluffy kitten would join her at lunch; a kangaroo, pert in a miniature Aussie bush hat complete with corks, was her companion at afternoon tea; and a wiry dog with lolling felt tongue would perch next to her at dinner. ‘They get lonely without me,’ she would tell us, solemnly. ‘They need a lot of love and care.’ Dear Mrs Macky: it was clear that she was the one in need – if not of love and care, then at least a bit of light electric shock therapy.

Another passenger who had more money than God was a woman called Heidi. Her marvellous generosity was mirrored in her body shape – she was one of the largest women I’ve ever met. She was always accompanied by her husband, Neville – a scrawny stick-figure of a man who spent much of his time literally in his wife’s shadow. Heidi would sweep into a room and look around for her husband; not seeing him, she would roar, ‘Neville!’ and this tiny little man would step out from behind her. ‘Yes, dear?’ he would say, mildly.

When she came on board, Heidi would pay visits to all the staff who would be looking after her for the next few months and ask them what gift they would like her to give them when the cruise ended – she didn’t want to buy them something they didn’t want or would never use.

One year, when she asked me, I told her I’d like one of those eight-foot-tall wooden carved giraffes that were all the rage at the time. Heidi thought this a fine idea, and added that she had some friends in Florida who would probably like to receive the same gift.

The ‘some’ friends turned out to number 22, and when we put in at Mombasa in Kenya, Heidi excitedly went ashore to seek her giraffes. She duly found them, and that evening 23 strapping young Kenyan men marched up the gangway, each carrying an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe. Twenty-two of these were stowed in Heidi and Neville’s penthouse; Heidi gave me mine.

Neville was just short enough to be more or less at eye-level with the undercarriage of the gigantic giraffes, and it was this tiny man who pointed out to his wife something that might cause some of their Florida friends embarrassment: all the giraffes were male, and all had an intricately carved wooden penis.

So the next morning, 22 strapping young Kenyan men marched up the gangway once again, and left the same way, each carrying an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe. And that evening, they returned, each carrying an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe – each with its penis carefully removed. (Only 22 of the giraffes got the Bobbitt treatment because I opted to keep my giraffe with its penis intact.)

* John Wayne Bobbitt gained worldwide notoriety in 1993 when his enraged wife cut off his penis with a knife. The penis was found and sewed back on. Later, Bobbitt formed a band, The Severed Parts, and appeared in the porn movies John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut and Frankenpenis.

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Extracted from the ebook for Kindle Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist. Buy your copy here:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Permanent-Wave-Hair-raising-Shipboard-ebook/dp/B00GC6YCCI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385615638&sr=1-1&keywords=life+on+a+permanent+wave

Oh, my dear, the noise! And the people!*

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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.

hairspray

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.