‘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.)

9 thoughts on “farewell”

  1. The dogs and I watched from the comfort of my bedroom, then a quick dash to the front garden to photograph her as she went by in all her stateliness.

  2. In a way I wish I was there as I still remember her traveling down the Clyde on her maiden voyage on my dad shoulders (I was very young). Unfortunately a young lad of 14, son of a school friend of mine died in a stabbing incident a few hours earlier in Gourock and I remembered why I left that area.

    Nice piece Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

  3. Don’t wish to sound like a teacher, Kimberly, but this is one of those quality posts to which I can only aspire. The writing is so evocative, and to me of course, coming from another great ship-building city, and who has loved these old liners, it was a powerful reminder of a once great industry. Thanks for the memories – wish I could have seen her myself.

  4. Thanks, Chris — high praise indeed. (and David too — and David: I’ve been loving every minitue of your blog lately. Clearly going back to school is good for you.)

    JD, I’m sorry. A blog post like this must seem immensely self-indulgent in the face of such insane violence. I only read of the boy who had been killed later in the evening, and got no sense of how or why it could be so.

    Perhaps if there were still ships to build fewer lives would be wasted.

  5. ‘Perhaps if there were still ships to build fewer lives would be wasted.’ Indeed. Coming from another ship-building city, I can relate to this.

    Shortly after I arrived in Scotland in 1990, the QE2 came up the Clyde as far as Greenock. Some of the men who built her were still around, and several of them stood on the quay in tears.

  6. Can we ask a question as to why Finland, Germany, France and Italy can still build beautiful ships?

    Yes the QE2 is very special. Should it not be laid up on the Clyde as a reminder of what once was a great tradition?

    Three blasts of the ships siren/horn. Will this be a feature of the service in Aberdeen tomorrow? One certainly hopes so.

  7. I’m never sure of what I’ll be reading when I open this blog which is a joy in itself, but today to have this as my first read of the day was a great joy indeed. Thank you.

  8. Yes, Zebadee, it would be wonderful and most fitting to have her here on the Clyde for her retirement – imagine dining on her as a special birthday treat!
    Di – I hope you have a zoom lens on your camera – unfortunately I don’t have and in my photos she is just a wee toy fronting the Gourock shore! Did you get any photos Kimberly or are you just going to savour the moments in your mind? Certainly you described it all so aptly and beautifully.
    I know these are rather late comments – it’s just me trying to catch up with the blog!

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