‘Look, there she is. Look.’
and heads turned and eyes lit up; 4-year-olds and 84-year-olds beamed in delight.
The eucharist ended early tonight since we had to go greet the queen.
The QE2 spent her 40th birthday today at home on the Clyde, and amidst much fanfare, sailed off on her final voyage to the indignities of old age: a face life, new joints, and a life locked in berth as a floating hotel in Dubai.
I think in years to come, I will associate Dunoon with standing outside in the cold waiting for things. Cruise-liners, pipe bands… We stand and wait.
And as I stood, I wondered: would I be here for the other QE2? Were her majesty to come, would I wait for her? Probably not. Not through lack of respect or curiosity, but because it would feel silly. Too much fuss over nothing. Just a monarch passing by. But for this QE2 it was different. It didn’t feel silly at all, but necessary. Even I, a perpetual ex-pat… even I, who have been on the Clyde for such a short time… know that when one of the great ships comes home, we must be there to welcome her.
And it was worth every cold and windy moment.
The wait was long. That first cry of ‘look, there she is, look’ came a good forty minutes before we could see anything other than her red hat hovering above the glass shelter of the old pier. The wait gave us time to chat. A young girl, who finally saw, then found it hard to care. An older woman, who had been up at 6 am to see her come in, but was too late, and determined now to see her, even if she missed dinner and returned from the cold of the promenade to the icy chill of her companion whose gold-sandled feet had stomped off 10 minutes before the ship came properly into view.
The wait built the excitement. Speculation over the movements of the coast guard, the police boat, the plane circling over head. A freight ship passed and we wondered if it would diminish our sense of her size. No, the opposite: it made us realize how vast she is.
And then at last: dozens of boats around her, three stately blasts of the horn as she graciously slipped past.
It is strange how deeply these ships are imprinted on our consciousness. I’d have thought I didn’t care. I’d have claimed to be fairly immune to the glamour. But as she curved around, and I suddenly saw ‘CUNARD’ so carefully lettered, my breath caught and a thousand dreams hovered in the twilight.
Up and down the coast, you could see cameras flashing (who knew? Gourock to Inverkip. Skelmerlie even. Lightning-bug flashes visible in Dunoon.) And then, we realised that as we stood photographing the ship, those on board were standing, photographing us (‘Look dear, do you remember: all those silly people standing in the cold…’)
It was a splendid evening. And it left me with a new question to ponder. Peter, if you’re reading this, this one’s for you:
Are three longs blasts of the horn the nautical equivalent of bowing to the altar?
(no, Peter, don’t tell me. Let me live in the hope that it is so.)