In 1962 the two of us waited to board the Mail Boat the M.V. “Accra”, bound for Liverpool from Lagos, West Africa. My daughter was three years old. The port was a teeming mass of humanity including local traders who plied their wares, many of them women. As always their baskets were supported on their heads. The aroma of spices pervaded the air along with the indescribable smell of Africa itself. Stalls were set up in every available space, however small. Immediately next to a display of pots and pans, fruit and vegetables nestled beside sweet pastries. Brightly coloured fabrics clamoured for attention alongside a variety of glorious rugs. Just a few yards on, a vendor extolled the virtues of his coffee beans, inviting everyone to sample them. All the traders considered their wares to be the best in the world: the juiciest water melons, the largest prawns, the thickest rugs, the richest coffee, the choicest pastries, the heaviest tapestries.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle we slowly worked our way forward towards the gangway. Finally we were on board where a stewardess showed us to our cabin. After unpacking we went up on deck. Beverley anxiously scanned the faces on the dock, looking for her Daddy. “There he is, there he is”, she shouted excitedly. He was frantically waving to attract our attention. Everyone had now boarded and the ship prepared to sail. Suddenly I heard the sound of “Rule Britannia” which I discovered would be played every time we arrived at and left port.. Everybody waved their final “Goodbyes” before settling down to 13 days at sea.
I remember feeling dreadfully seasick but fortunately it didn’t affect Beverley. After a couple of days I suddenly felt much better. I mentioned this to a woman I’d started chatting to each day and she burst out laughing. “You idiot ! We’ve been docked for two hours !” We’d arrived at Sierra Leone, Freetown, still on the West Coast of Africa. The harbour was most impressive, surrounded by mountains. The ship was there for just a couple of hours whilst it took on cargo and more fuel. Once again we listened to “Rule Britannia” as the ship majestically departed from the harbour. To my relief I no longer suffered from seasickness and started to enjoy the voyage. I wondered why I’d never travelled by ship before instead of waiting until my very last trip from Lagos to England.
I was astonished at the wonderful food that was served in the splendid dining room. The ship offered all the services I would have associated with a cruise. We all changed for dinner of course, nothing too grand or formal but something a little dressy or smart. I went to lots of cocktail and other drinks parties but all the officers thought they were God’s gift to woman. I could have happily stayed on board travelling backwards and forwards forever. Of course I was very young at the time.
Beverley had a wonderful time but can’t remember anything about it now. She was with me all day and in the evenings a stewardess kept a close eye on her and would call me if necessary. Forgot to mention that I met a “sugar Daddy” who promised me an all expenses paid holiday anywhere in the world with my daughter – no strings attached !! When I refused he never spoke to me again – so much for “no strings attached!”.
We finally docked at Liverpool and said our fond farewells to people we’d met and took home some very happy memories. My next trip would be to Benghazi, Libya, but that’s another story.