The Diary Beryl Bainbridge: And the whisky was served in pint glasses

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The Independent Online
It's a curious fact that anyone with money in the bank almost invariably becomes the recipient of largesse of every sort. Take last weekend, which found me and grandson, Darling Bertie, at Euston station ready to board a replica of the Orient Express bound for my native city of Liverpool and a trip on the high seas, courtesy of the shipping line Cunard. No sooner had we swayed up the escalator than I bumped into Brian Masters, he who wrote about the murderer Dennis Nilsen. What a merry time we had bowling through the Midlands talking about bodies stuffed down drains, and how time flew as the champagne corks continued to pop.

We arrived at Edge Hill, a name often used in my youth to describe a form of birth control smiled upon by the Pope, as in the phrase, "Getting out at Edge Hill". It was here that William Huskisson MP, travelling on the inaugural run of Stevenson's Rocket, descended onto the track to stretch his legs and was promptly run over by the still advancing engine.

There followed a coach tour of the city, taking in Liverpool 8, now known as Toxteth. Most of the Georgian terraces on Upper Parliament street have gone, thanks to both the Luftwaffe and the town planners, and the Rialto Ballroom went up in flames during the riots. We avoided Stanhope Street in which Adolf's half brother, Alois, once lived with Bridget Dowling and their baby son, William Patrick Hitler.

Lime Street is now rather sad. The row of grand picture palaces have decayed into cut-price stores and Johnny Walker, who used to prance in coloured lights, whisky bottle emptying beneath the stars, has vanished forever from the hoardings of The Sailors pub. When we came in sight of the Mersey, Terry Waite lamented the loss of the Overhead Railway, which in our day stretched the length of the Dock Road. His Dad used to take him on it. Some fool pulled it down in the Sixties because it was in the way.

WE BOARDED the Caronia cruise ship at 12.30 for a champagne reception followed by a splendid lunch. What a ship she is, and how well the crew looked after us! No sooner had we located our cabins than the banshee screaming of the ship's alarm sent us scurrying up on deck for boat drill. The air was freezing, the seas rough and I was all but strangled by Darling Bertie shoving me into my life jacket.

As darkness fell we disembarked and gathered on the dockside waving little Union Jacks in patriotic readiness for the renaming and rededication of the Caronia. Under a wind-swept awning huddled the Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, plus choir. We sang Christmas carols, the Hallelujah Chorus and the National Anthem. On the rostrum above stood the Chief Executive of the Cunard Line, the Lord Mayor, the Port Chaplain, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Buerk, Jimmy Savile, and Vera, late of the Rover's Return. Mr Prescott spoke warmly of the city and how grand it was that Cunard was back in business and how we should be grateful to Mr Pimpernel, the Chief Executive, for making it possible.

This last remark caused some merriment as the chief's name was listed as Mr Pimentel. No matter, for then we sang "Bread of Heaven", "Rule Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory", flags waving like crazy, the Red Ensign rising up the mast amidst a dazzling display of fireworks. Golly, how we cheered! How we choked back tears! Behind us at the Pierhead thousands of Liverpudlians - one in three unemployed - stood dwarfed against the magnificent outlines of the Liver, Cunard and White Star buildings, each empty of commerce and now become mere monuments to a by-gone age.

The evening passed in a blur of food, champagne, cabaret acts and disco dancing. At midnight the ship moved mid-river for a further firework display, but by this time Darling Bertie and I were out for the count; to be woken in the small hours by a cacophony of breaking glasses, ice buckets hitting the walls and dressing-table drawers flying in and out the way they do in movies set in haunted houses. It went on all night. When dawn came there was nothing to be seen out of the windows save for mountainous waves and several leap-frogging dolphins.

NOT MANY people showed up for breakfast. While I was having mine, part of the Lido ceiling fell down. In the Ballroom, the compere was trying to encourage stragglers to play Trivial Recruits. He posed daft questions: "What does ROM mean, as in CD?" I tried Roll Over Mother, but it was wrong. That night Jimmy Tarbuck entertained us, but it all went over my head. Someone had told me you could order any drink you wanted, and when I asked for whisky it came in pint glasses. Later, I fell over.

NEXT DAY I suggested it was down to the rocking of the ship, but apparently the Force 9 gale had long since ended and by now we were tied up to the quayside at Southampton. Eighty-seven years ago the Titanic sailed from this spot, though nobody thought fit to mention it.

Come 10 o'clock, Sunday morning, we were on the move again, down one gang-plank and up another to have lunch on the refurbished QE2. The food was magnificent, the company exhilarating. Then Terry made a witty speech on our behalf thanking Cunard for such an amazing weekend, and we all trooped off again to board the coaches back to London.

Knackered isn't the word for it!

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