Queen of the Sea

The cruise season is underway again in the southern hemisphere. Just thinking about this annual invasion of floating palaces made me nostalgic for the time (not so long ago) when cruise ships were much smaller and looked like ships, not multi-storied apartment blocks on a barge.

A brief search through the files came up with one example that was based at Southampton, England, and very popular in the 1960s and ’70s.

Reina del Mar (1955) from a postcard.

The Reina del Mar wasn’t even built for cruising but evolved into the trade. Launched in 1955 as a passenger/cargo vessel, she spent her first eight years sailing between Liverpool and the west coast of South America for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, at a loss. The route, like many others at the time, lost business to airlines and jet travel. The company reluctantly decided to withdraw her from service in 1963 and she was chartered for cruising by the Travel Savings Association, a partnership headed by South African millionaire Max Wilson. This episode deserves a page of its own and is well explained here.

The Reina’s new role called for an extensive refit.

Reina del Mar in 1964 with TSA logo on funnel. Card by J. Arthur Dixon.

1964. The Reina del Mar in TSA livery after her refit. Postcard by J. Arthur Dixon.

The cargo holds were converted to cabin space and the superstructure extended forward above them to form the Coral Lounge, claimed to be the biggest public room on any ship then afloat. The box-like structure between the bridge and the funnel was a cinema, perhaps not the best place to put it. Every movement of the ship could be felt at that height, making it difficult to concentrate on a movie when the Reina was “on a roll” (and not in a good way). The postcard above was sent from Gibraltar in 1964. The cryptic message on the back says –
“11.45 p.m. Monday Oct. 26
….as you can see we are on a Med. cruise. 1st stop Gibraltar at 2 p.m. 2nd stop Naples Thurs., Palermo Sat., Lisbon Nov 4th. The passage Friday very rough, alright now.”
Seems like the Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation on Friday (not a good movie night). It isn’t always like that.

Sadly, the TSA organisation collapsed a year later but not before Wilson had given the British cruise “industry” a much needed shake-up. One of his partners, the Union Castle Line, took over the Reina del Mar charter and she appeared in company colours soon afterwards.

The Union Castle cruise ship 'Reina del Mar' in Grand Harbour, Malta, c. 1971

Grand Harbour, Malta. 1971.

Union Castle eventually bought the Reina in 1973, just in time for an oil crises that saw fuel prices quadruple. This made the company’s only cruise ship uneconomic and she was scrapped in 1975 – at 20 years old. From that point on cruise ships would be built using the economy of scale to keep fares affordable. More passengers on more decks.

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Buy British

In the last thirty years the British motor industry has grown rapidly and mass-production of moderately priced cars has increased the standard of living of millions of citizens. English cars, unsurpassed for their quality and reliability, are in demand throughout the world and ably demonstrate our national aptitude in engineering skill. These photographs were taken of work in famous factories at Cowley and Birmingham.
‘England Today in Pictures’, Odhams Press Ltd, 1947.

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Austin 10 family saloons at the Birmingham factory. 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a blistering 1 minute 55 sec!

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A production line for the Morris 8E – made by humans, not robots – at Cowley, Oxford.

We might have a more demanding definition of “quality and reliability” today, so those words should be understood in their historical context, not to mention their propaganda value for a country struggling to recover after WWII. Petrol (gas) was still rationed in 1947 and a large proportion of new car production was exported to boost the economy. A new car was actually out of reach for “millions of citizens”. Consequently, second hand pre-war vehicles held their value well into the 1950s.

Manawatu Gorge, N.Z. Then and Now

Today’s post is part history, part travel advisory for the benefit of visitors. The second part won’t be news to New Zealand readers!

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This postcard mailed in the early 1900s, shows a painting of the Manawatu Gorge from the eastern entrance, as it was in the 1860s.

In the early days the Manawatu Gorge, a natural cleft dividing the Ruahine and Tararua ranges, was covered with beautiful bush from hill top to the brink of the river that flows through it. There was no track through the gorge, and the settlers in the Woodville district were unable to have any direct communication with those living on the west coast.

When the Government decided to open up the country, a bridle track was made on [the southern] side of the gorge; it was later widened into a road, but until the bridge was built, people crossed the river in a cage suspended from a wire; cattle forded it as best they could. Later timber was cut in the bush about the settlement of Woodville, then hauled by bullocks and floated down the river to the site of a bridge which was opened in 1875.

After the bridge was built a four-horse mail and passenger coach travelled daily through the gorge, and its arrival was eagerly awaited by everyone at Woodville, for it was their only connection with the outside world…….

Then the [railway] line through the gorge was commenced [on the opposite side], and the Woodville end became a very busy settlement, where temporary dwellings housed many of the workers on the line. The boring of two large and three small tunnels, bridge building, and excavating, made the job a long one, and the work gave many of the settlers a good start.

At last it was finished, the eastern and western coasts of New Zealand [North Island] were linked by road and rail, and the first train travelled through the gorge in 1891.
‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Ed. A. E. Woodhouse. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., 1940.

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The Manawatu Gorge now. State Highway 3 from the western end.

The road has been vunerable to landslides, euphemistically known as “slips” in New Zealand, since it opened. The rail line as well, to a lesser extent. Each one seems to get bigger and more expensive to fix. The engineers and road crews had not long recovered from repairing a huge slide that closed the road for 18 months when another came down in April this year, followed by a smaller event a couple of months later. Expert opinion is that the hillside is unstable and moving slowly all the time, encouraged by a very wet winter. It is too dangerous for road crews to go in and clear the mess. (Some of the boulders are about half the size of a small car).

MG_gorge

Looking east down the gorge. Ruahine mountains and rail line at left; Tararua mountains and road at right.

Fortunately there are two alternative routes; the Saddle road to the north, and the Pahiatua Track to the south. Not a “track” anymore but neither road was built for State Highway traffic volumes. Noises are being made about building a new road along a reliable route while bureaucracy uses buzz words like “public engagement in the process” and moves at its usual glacial pace. A final decision will be made in December, after the ground dries out. Meanwhile we have to wait and see which political party holds the purse strings after the general election on 23rd of this month.

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One alternative route, over the Pahiatua Track. Not a “track” anymore but obviously not made for high traffic volumes.

Whatever the outcome – if you’re planning to visit the North Island of New Zealand, don’t expect to cross it via the Manawatu Gorge this summer. Or, perhaps, ever.

Sometimes Nature wins.

London’s Gaiety Girls

In the “seventies” [1870s] there was a wonderful galaxy of talent at the old Gaiety Theatre, Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, Edward Terry, and Royce forming a matchless quartette.

Kate Vaughn

Kate Vaughan

Young men, of course, will always be foolish, up to the end of time. Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, and Emily Duncan all had their “colours.” Nellie Farren’s were dark blue, light blue, and white; Kate Vaughan’s were pink and grey; Emily Duncan’s black and white; the leading hosiers “stocked” silk scarves of these colours, and we foolish young men bought the colours of the lady we especially admired, and sat in the stalls of the Gaiety flaunting the scarves of our favourite round our necks.

As I then thought, and still think, that Nellie Farren was one of the daintiest and most graceful little creatures ever seen on the stage, with a gaminerie all her own, I, in common with many other youths, sat in the stalls of the Gaiety wrapped in a blue-and-white scarf. Each lady showered smiles over the footlights at her avowed admirers, whilst contemptuously ignoring those who sported her rival’s colours. One silly youth, to testify to his admiration for Emily Duncan, actually had white kid gloves with black fingers, specially manufactured for him. He was, we hope, repaid for his outlay by extra smiles from his enchantress.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Aldwych

Nellie Farren

Nellie Farren

For a popular burlesque, in the days of Nellie Farren and Connie Gilchrist, of Fred Leslie and Arthur Roberts, the same stalls were filled night after night by the rich unemployed, who afterwards followed their fancies hither and thither and spent quite considerable sums upon them. There was no great stir when marriages followed such aquaintance, and most of them turned out a great success.
‘Gilded Youth’ (essay) ‘Fifty Years, Memories and Contrasts’, Sir Ian Malcolm. Thornton Butterworth, Ltd; London, 1932.

I have to admit, in the interest of accuracy, that the Gaiety shown above in 1913 is not the “old Gaiety Theatre” these two men remembered. That stood across the road on the site of the Morning Post newspaper office at left. It had its last performance in 1903 and was demolished soon afterwards. The new theatre (on the right) had been under construction since 1901 and opened four months after the original closed.

Some of the Gaiety Girls held a reunion in 1950 and what remained of the theatre, just a shell since 1939, was demolished in 1957. The Morning Post building, completed in 1907, is now the One Aldwych hotel.

Feathered Friends

New Zealand journalist Pat Lawlor (1893 – 1976) remembers the old days in Wellington, with prompts from his childhood diary.

May 30 1905….. Heard Mrs _____’s cockatwo swearing…..

It is in no spirit of charity that I leave out the name of the owner of the swearing cockatoo; and there were not ‘two’ of them as suggested by my diary entry. The plain truth is that the name of Mrs_____ is written in pencil, smudged with the years and unreadable. I would surmise that the worthy owner wished at times that the shrill declarations of her pet, when in anger born, were smudged or entirely obliterated.

cockatooThe famous cockatoo, white in colour and assertive in mien, was brought up in a bar-room, where he learnt his ABC (with an accent on the B), and was later acquired by the owner of a crockery shop…… On fine days cocky’s cage would be placed on the edge of the footpath, and it was then that he really performed if small boys annoyed him. I hope I was not one of them but I do know that whenever I was in the vicinity I always stopped to listen to him – just in case.

Mr L. C. Smith, who has many wonderful memories of Wellington, relates that once when Mrs_____ was in hospital a police sergeant from the station nearby agreed to look after the bird. When the Inspector of Police arrived one day, cocky took violent objection to him and poured out a torrent of the kind of abuse that is generally written on paper and handed to the magistrate. The inspector was shocked. He averred that capital punishment was too good for the bird. Another day the cockatoo mimicked the growl of a passing dog, who, resentful, tried to get at cocky through the wire cage. Mr Smith declares that it took two policemen to separate the screeching, swearing cockatoo and the snarling bulldog.

cuba street

December 4 1905…… Saw the penguin at Hurcombes swallow a fish and not be sick…..

Hurcomb the fishmonger in Cuba Street could have given points to a modern display merchant. There was always something doing at his shop. In this case it was his penguin, who, in between other displays, was on duty at the front door, wandering occasionally on to the footpath. Every now and then Hurcomb would appear and give him a fish which would disappear in one neat swallow, causing me to wonder why he was not sick.
‘More Wellington Days’, Pat Lawlor. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd; 1962.

Lawlor didn’t mention the type of penguin Mr. Hurcomb fed but it was probably a little blue, found all around the New Zealand coast including Wellington harbour.

A road sign near Wellington airport warning of penguins crossing.

This warning sign is only a few hundred metres from the end of Wellington’s airport runway. Why does the penguin cross the road? To get to its nest burrow on the other side.

Here’s a quote from New Zealand Bird’s On Line
“As their name suggests, the little penguin is the smallest species of penguin. They are also the most common penguin found around all coasts of New Zealand’s mainland and many of the surrounding islands. Primarily nocturnal on land, they are sometimes found close to human settlements and often nest under and around coastal buildings, keeping the owners awake at night with their noisy vocal displays. They live up to their scientific name ‘Eudyptula’ meaning “good little diver”, as they are excellent pursuit hunters in shallow waters.”

Follow the link to this excellent site for more information and some excessively cute photographs.

Cockatoo photo credit: lwolfartist DSC04118 via photopin (license)

Kelburn: midway between earth and sky

Wellington (New Zealand) journalist, Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), digs into his boyhood diary

February 1, 1906….. Went to the Kiosk and had fun in the cable car……

Vintage postcard of Kelburn Tea Kiosk and cable car c.1907

Kelburn (with an extra ‘e’) Kiosk around 1907 with cable car at right.

The place Wellingtonians know now as the Skyline was for many years identified as the Kiosk. It was a barn-like building where one could have tea and cakes for sixpence, with a fine view of the city and harbour thrown in for good measure. The young men of the city usually took their young ladies there by cable car and then wandered on down through the Botanical Gardens on the way home, or through the then-embowered Kelburn to the other end of the city. I do not know when the tea rooms ceased to be called the Kiosk.

I do know, however, that after World War II the name became unpopular. Anti-communists suggested ‘kiosk’ was of Russian origin, but this is not correct. The word is Turkish or Persian signifying…… banqueting amid trellised splendour with fair views. This, despite all the glamour that youthful memory may inspire, could hardly describe the Kiosk I wrote of in my diary of 1906.
‘More Wellington Days’. Pat Lawlor, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1962.

F. L. Irvine-Smith, in her book ‘The Streets of my City’ (1948), digs a little deeper

Kelburn, named after Viscount Kelburn, the eldest son of the Earl of Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand (1892-1897), quickly became a favourite suburb, not only because of its proximity to the city, but because of the sheer beauty of its position poised high above the city and the shining waters below.

Kelburn ascent

The nucleus of settlement was the Upland Farm, acquired by the Upland Estate Co., in 1896, originally the property of Wm. Moxham, but every possible foothold was soon covered by the heavily basemented type of house which may be said to have become the characteristic of Wellington hill-side architecture…….

It was a sheer triumph of engineering that transformed the lower levels of Moxham Farm into habitable ground….. which emerged out of the levelling of the knolls that filled the valley, their soil being spread by means of an aerial wire tramway.

Kelburn is thus an essentially man-made suburb, from its cable tramway which transports passengers in ten minutes from the heart of the city, to its flights of soaring steps and bastions and retaining walls that transform the most inaccessible eyries into “desirable building lots,” but once safely ensconced within these buttressed edifices, midway between earth and sky, the panorama that meets the eye is truly heaven-made – an unsurpassable vista of city, sea and sky in the perfection of harmonious balance…….

Kelburn descent

Nearby is Kelburn Park, a verdant expanse of “the greenest grass that ever grew,” with scarce a trace of having been made to order by cutting off a hill-top and tipping it holus-bolus into the adjacent gully.
‘The Streets of My City’. F. L. Irvine-Smith, 1948. Reprinted 1974 by A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd, Wellington.

Overlooking the Oriental Bay area of Wellington from the suburb of Kelburn.

Kelburn Park, foreground, “made to order”.

The Skyline building was lost to two suspicious fires, three weeks apart, in 1982.

The need for speed

Excerpts from an essay, ‘The Countryside’, by Lord Ernle (1851-1937)

My own recollections date back to 1855 – a Golden Age of agriculture for squires and farmers, when the land not only supplied bread to 17,000,000, and meat to the whole, of the existing population, but employed nearly 1,100,000 rural workers. Men ploughed, sowed, reaped, and threshed almost as they had done in Biblical days….

Vintage postcard of haymaking in the English countryside.

Preparations for the coming annihilation of time and distance had hardly begun. Few railways had been built; the mercantile fleet mainly consisted of sailing ships, small in number and carrying capacity; except for short distances no submarine cables had been laid; roads were still barred by turnpike gates, and, off the railways, horses or “hiking” were the only means of land locomotion or conveyance….

Life travels faster than it did. Its pace is no longer set by ploughmen behind their horses in the furrows. But rich in advantages though the change is, those who live by the land – tenant-farmers, landlords, workers, parsons, or tradesmen who depend on their custom – have not found speed an unmixed blessing. With one hand it brings the farmer help, with the other disaster. Speed saves his time, cheapens his production, checks the caprice of climate; but it is also speed that ruins his market by bringing perishable products from the ends of the earth. By innumerable means it has made life easier in the countryside; for all who live by the land it has made it harder to live. But speed clashes with the dominant force of the countryside. Nature refuses to be hustled by mechanics.

However much the handling of her products may be accelerated, her own processes of production remain unhurried. It is from her deliberate methods that rural life derives the air of repose, or, if you will, stagnation, which gives it dignity and independence. If its special needs are wholly sacrificed to urban interests, the country becomes only a poor relation of the town. Road authorities might save expenditure if they more often remembered that cattle can shift their quarters without a Rolls-Royce, and that horses cannot keep their feet on skating rinks.
‘Fifty Years, Memories and Contrasts’. Thornton Butterworth Limited, London. 1932.