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Jail Break

By Graham Rosso

I received a captivating tale from Graham Rosso, which I believe you'll find delightful. Graham's journey with P&O began in 1977, shortly after completing his apprenticeship. He initially joined the Canberra and worked in the print shop. However, in 1979, after a brief break, he switched to the Big O. Despite the change, he had a soft spot for Oriana, appreciating the superior food offered on that ship.

Oriana in Circular Quay - Sydney

In 1981, Oriana bid farewell to Southampton for the last time and set sail for Australia, where she navigated the Pacific until her final retirement in 1986. Graham fondly remembers this last voyage from England to Australia as one of the best periods of his life.

Once they settled permanently in Sydney, the atmosphere was fantastic, as they transitioned from being crew members to official employees of P&O, receiving monthly pay and enjoying regular leaves.

Before Oriana's move to Australia, she embarked on an annual voyage from Southampton to Sydney in November, cruising the Pacific over Christmas and New Year. In April, she would return to the UK for Mediterranean cruising. This particular trip holds a special place in my heart as it was my first appointment with P&O, spanning across the world.

San Francisco 1974 (left)

and in 2022 (right)

During this memorable voyage, San Francisco served as one of the extraordinary destinations. Among the delights of the shore visit was a trip to Tower Records. Remarkably, I revisited San Francisco last year after a 46-year gap, and now share what I discovered during this return visit. San Francisco Revisited

Former Tower Records 2022

Tower Records 1974

Graham's narrative beautifully unfolds in San Francisco, where he and his friend Geoff engaged in some jovial drinking with the locals. Sadly, Geoff, Graham's partner in crime, passed away last year.

Jail Break

by Graham Rosso

This story is lovingly dedicated to Geoff's cherished memory.



The Petty Officers and Leading Hands’ mess was surprisingly neat and tidy. Proof that you can get used to anything, table service from Goan waiters in white jackets three times a day becomes unremarkable after a week or so, even to someone from Luton. Menus were printed daily and included an impressive seven courses for lunch and another seven for dinner, none of which were egg and chips.

As variety went, some menu items appeared a lot more frequently than others. This did not go unremarked, and, although we had no hard evidence, suspected a marked increase in Bentley ownership among shepherds. Despite the best efforts of the lamb cartel, a range of other dishes were also available. Coffee and a cigarette finished most meals, although of course not for everyone as some people preferred tea. The mess seemed, even back then, a small remnant of an empire long gone.

However excessive in retrospect, it wasn’t all filet mignon and pan-fried rainbow trout, the dining experience also reflected the rugged life of hairy-arsed seamen in the late ’70s/early ’80s. There was, for instance, no full-time sommelier and, if you wanted anything from the cheese board after your meal, you had to walk over and get it yourself. As well as going large on lamb, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company was big on white. White ships, white jackets, white shirts, white trousers, white shorts, white hats, white shoes, white socks... even boiler suits were white. Tablecloths in the mess were of course white, but had some coloured squares on them, possibly an H&S thing to prevent snow blindness. Non- white clothing stood out like the proverbial dogs’ balls, especially at breakfast. It was, for us, early on the morning this story begins. Not clothed in the familiar boiler suits, and with a camera hanging over the back of the chair, we stood out among the sea of white, becoming magnets for well rehearsed sarcasm. Most comments contained references to Hollywood and/or various accusations of “being on yer father’s yacht.” Humour at sea was traditionally grounded in taking the piss, you gave it out and took it. Often relentless, it was mostly good natured. Just a few times though, there was an element of playground jealousy when the final comment of “Yea, wish I was a (insert job title) and could go ashore in (insert port name). Some of us have to work” followed us out the door.

It was generally regarded onboard ss Oriana that crew in every department except the one you worked in did far less work for lots more money, had more time off than Katie Price’s knickers and were raking in a small fortune behind the scenes in dodgy enterprises run by nautical versions of Arthur Daley and/or Del Boy.

Of course if a magic wand were waved at that instant, granting these habitual whingers the rest of the day off, most would probably find some excuse not to actually go ashore and would just go up the bar or wander aimlessly around the ship scowling. Those that did venture a few yards from the quay would no doubt come back and swap stories of how the place was nothing like as good as it used to be “when they were on the Orangutan.*”

* Before absorbtion into P&O, Orient Line ships, of which Oriana was the last, all had names which began with O. After years of hearing “When I was on the Orcades” tales, we invented a few fictional ones just to wind up the old sea dog types.

‘Outward bound’. At the time a name associated with wholesome outdoor activities often involving anoraks and the Lake District, at the end of which participants were presented with an award for self-discipline and endurance by the Duke of Edinburgh. In our case Outward Bound was the name of the annual voyage from Southampton to Sydney. There was of course no award for surviving this six week odyssey, just a sense of achievement. Had there been a certificate issued or medal struck, then a suitable candidate to present it would have been Ozzy Osbourne.

Arriving in Sydney just before Christmas. The ship then set off on the legendary Christmas Cruise, afterwards commencing regular cruises in the South Pacific for the summer. The islands became familiar places with familiar faces. If it’s Tuesday it must be Tonga. In early April, we departed Sydney for the creatively named ‘Homeward Bound’ and did the reverse journey back to Southampton.

Highlights of the Outward Bound included giving the European winter the finger once we had crossed the Atlantic and got the shorts out for Bermuda. Next stop was Nassau, where you could pretend to be James Bond for the day and even a beer was shaken, not stirred. Continuing the palm tree theme we visited Port Everglades, where port authorities held a regular ‘Board of Trade sports day*’ in the morning and Fort Lauderdale beach bars held wet T-shirt contests in the afternoon.

* US regulations required that ships intending to visit more than one American port must hold an emergency drill including lowering and launching a number of lifeboats. Some people in charge of lifeboats seemed to live the opposite of a charmed life as boats with them aboard regularly broke down. Consquently crew allocated to their boats often turned up with a P&O packed lunch at the ready, mainly to take the piss, but also to give them something to eat while they drifted aimlessley round the harbour.

After Florida came a canal trip that pissed on anything offered by the Norfolk Broads, sometimes with an overnight in San Cristobal while the ship waited its turn to transit the canal. Only crew members were allowed ashore here as it was pretty much Dodge City-on-sea. Even the buildings had a bad reputation, with most of the houses being of ill-repute. The main drag was barely lit, with dark, empty side streets having an air of menace. Conversely, there did seem to be brisk trade at a late night farmers’ market, with regional produce at prices not to be sniffed at, thanks to the Pablo Escobar agricultural subsidy programme.

In the days when the US owned and ran the canal we would buy khaki uniform shirts off workers who came on board with “Canal Zone” stencilled on the back. By the time I found the guy selling them in the crew pig** he had runstenciledCanal out of fresh ones, but took off the one he was wearing and offered it at a bargain price. Had it not been dripping with a gallon of sweat and approximately the size of a marquee, I would have taken him up on it.

** Pig and whistle. Crew bar.

At the end of the Panama canal, the Pacific sparkled as Oriana passed under the Bridge of the Americas and hung a right, heading up the coast to Mexico, passing Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala on the way... we were definitely not in Kansas anymore. Acapulco still had a touch of faded glamour back then, and you could enjoy a bit of a wild night out and get to see the tequila sunrise without too many bullet wounds.

Next stop was San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles. California was (to me anyway) still associated with the Beach Boys, surfing and of course the hotel. We had crew outings to Universal Studios and Disneyland and had a great time in both, surrounded by Americans enjoying family days out. Not quite ten years had passed since the Manson family days out highlighted a darker side to the city. Mind you, at that age ten years was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

There were some of the world’s most famous streets: Sunset, Rodeo, Santa Monica, Sesame; all which we never got to fully experience as, in my case anyway, we were never in port overnight.

After LA it was San Francisco, where we regularly had an “overnighter” and where this tale takes place.

Vancouver would be the next on the list. A ‘bit monkeys1’ at that time of the year and a real low point for the palm tree aficionado, the annual rumour of the four hundred nurses supposedly boarding there always started about two weeks prior to arrival and of course never happened. We then crossed a big stretch of the Pacific before yet another palm strewn beach type paradise, Honolulu, where the locals never tired of “book him Danno” jokes. If there had not been enough palm trees in Hawaii then the next port, Suva in Fiji, had a pretty good supply, plus the WanQ restaurant, located in Cumming Street served good Chinese food as well as being everyone’s favourite double entendre. The last port before Sydney was Auckland, where you could experience life in the 1950’s, still with the original cars.

Working for P&O allowed “the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne”, to quote Elvis Costello, regular access to places that people saved up for years to visit. Glamorous locations were often “just somewhere to check out on a Wednesday” and, like the menus, every port offered so many choices. Lunch for instance. Should you dine on board, go a bit upmarket and stroll ashore for a lobster mornay with a cheeky Chardonnay, or stick with seagoing tradition and snort a few lines of coke off a stripper? Seeking a short break from being relentless 24 hour party people, Geoff and I arranged a day off in San Francisco. A complete day off work was unusual. Although floggings were by then pretty much a thing of the past and scurvy all but eradicated, every member of the ship’s company worked seven days a week.

If you worked with people you could rely on, then covering for each other in port was fine, with the proverbial blind eye turned as long as the work was done. Even if you had to work, if the ship was in overnight, you could still go ashore for what was often an unforgettable evening, even if you couldn’t remember it, in some great locations.

Our intention was to go and actually see something of the city rather than just the usual interiors of bars, clubs and naughty ladies. The most implausible part of the plan was to begin the day with a bit of shopping. Perhaps a touch overambitious, but afterwards we aimed to take in a few sights, one of which would be Alcatraz.


First time I was introduced to Geoff was in a queue to sign on to ship’s articles, a legal contract of employment, on my first trip on Oriana. The WAP (Woman Assistant Purser) in charge recognised me from Canberra, the ship that is, not the most boring city in the Southern Hemisphere. Always wondered why they bothered with the W. Call me Sherlock, but it was fairly easy to tell a female assistant purser from the male version, even on the rare occasion when both had a moustache, as one of them would be wearing a skirt. After saying hello, she pointed to the person in front of me and said “This is Mr Songhurst, he doesn’t usually bother to sign on.” Apparently, last time Geoff had broken with convention and, rather than signing on before the ship sailed, had signed on the day after, an innovative method of avoiding the queues. Evidently, his excuse, which was along the lines of “the dog ate my homework” wasn’t well received. A technical stowaway for a day, he spent the night in his cabin as the lifeboats were reserved for fictional stowaways.

One of the great things about visiting San Francisco on a ship is that, like Sydney or Hong Kong, the ship was actually berthed in the city, not tied up at some obscure docks in a rusting industrial area miles away or anchored somewhere over the horizon. Unlike arriving by air, especially in the post 9/11 world, where the welcoming greeting we received from officials on the pier has been replaced by endless queues, scans and someone shining a torch up your arse, arriving by ship meant you could just stroll down the gangway to where the action was.

Other ports offered access to ancient historic locations: Rome, Cairo, Jerusalem and Athens, to name just a few. By comparison, American alleged history was ‘a bit Hermann’2. George Washington was not as well known as Geno Washington in the UK and nobody gave a monkeys about the Declaration of Independence or was too worried about Davey Crockett being killed at the Alamo, although I did once have a cat that did a great impression of his hat. On the other hand visiting California was almost a pilgrimage to the shrine of pop culture.

I always got a buzz just walking down the street in America, mainly because it was a street in America, a place that I had dreamed of seeing firsthand while growing up with it through television, films and music.

This was the California that was still exciting, an almost mythical location, somehow larger than life, before the world became homogenised. Wide streets full of wide cars, the birthplace of a counter culture that had gone from beatnicks to hippies and kept evolving, California, its name synonymous with cool, was a treat for the rock and roll historian and palm tree enthusiast alike.

Places we would regularly visit in San Francisco included the legendary Tower Records, the biggest record shop I had ever seen, where albums were stacked a mile high and people shopped with trolleys as if it were a supermarket. Due to the great prices and massive range, we used to stock up with pre-recorded cassette tapes. Yea, fairly prehistoric, although the brontosaurus was on the endangered list by then. Unlike those bought in the far east, you were guaranteed these tapes contained ‘what it said on the cover’. I still have my copy of the Rolling Stones’ Black and Blue, bought at a bargain price in the Kowloon night market. Admittedly not one of their most memorable albums but a lot better than what turned out to be a recording of some twat singing Elvis songs in Cantonese.*

* or possibly Mandarin. The backing singing on Don’t Be Cruel has grown on me over the years

Although the summer of love had turned to a hazy shade of winter many years before, Haight/Ashbury was just a street corner, and, as luck would have it, you no longer had to wear flowers in your hair, this was still California before the bland, the beige, the bearded, the bicycle worshippers and the boring began to colonize it. Blondie were on the radio, Apocalypse Now was at the cinema and there was not a fucking Toyota Camry in sight.

I thought about the first time visiting the port. Going up on deck as we were leaving, taking photographs of the legendary Golden Gate Bridge... until I discovered that I had half a roll of film of views of the Oakland Bridge and the one I was after was round the corner.


As we walked down the gangway, more cries alerting anyone within earshot that some crew members were going ashore rang out from above, where a gaggle of galley staff had gathered at the rail for a bit of fresh air, and half a packet of Benson & Hedges. Stepping onto American soil, admittedly covered in a fair amount of wood and concrete, we waved animatedly at the “babbling brooks4” above and fired off some razor sharp seafaring wit and banter, advising them, with a smile, to “fuck off back to work.”

We walked up past the sign for Fisherman’s Wharf that featured in the opening credits of “The Streets of San Francisco”,

Fishermans Whalf - 1978

the church where Marilyn Monroe had her wedding pics taken with Joe DiMaggio and from where Clint was shot at in “Dirty Harry”. The day was fine and sunny and just being out and about began to clear the slight hangovers from the previous night. Almost as if pre-arranged, a black vintage Rolls Royce glided past. At first we suspected the figure sat in the back to be a Hollywood lamb dealer, but it turned out to be Gene Hackman.


Being English, when visiting California you almost expected to be wading through film stars everywhere you went. The North Beach area of the city was overflowing with cinemas, although in that district the films were more Ron Jeremy than Ron Howard.

Having located the pier from which the ferry to Alcatraz departs from, we headed off looking for shops that sold clothes. Nearly everything was cheaper in America and the service was on the whole far better than in Europe. We bought a few pairs of jeans and some Jack Daniels’ shirts, then decided to get “extras” to take back to the UK as presents, which seemed a remarkably grown up idea. Although to be honest I’m not sure what Geoff’s granny did with her pair of 501’s. However, later he found that the pair he bought for himself without trying them on were a perfect fit... had he been Johnny Vegas.

Mind you, this sort of shopping was way more successful than the usual last-minute purchases on the way back to the ship at 3 am. Who can honestly say they haven’t woken up fully booted5 nursing the mother of all hangovers, while still wearing a huge sequinned sombrero? Another essential item destined to spend the rest of its life in the cabin along with the fez from Cairo, two onyx chess sets and a Donald Duck hat, all of which seemed such a bargain at the time.


Full of self-congratulation at how sensible we were and armed with lots of bags of clothes, our heroes went back to the pier to get a ticket to Alcatraz. We were told we had just missed the ferry out to the island but there would be another one in around an hour. There was plenty of time to catch the next one.

To kill a bit of time while we waited, we went off uphill looking for somewhere to have a cup of coffee. Couldn’t see a cafe nearby, but we did evenutally come across a small bar which looked inviting that morning but, in retrospect, turned out to be the lair of Beelzebub. Reasoning that if we had a swift half here, it would be simple to nip back round to the ferry wharf in an hour, we walked in.

Years later when I saw an episode of “Cheers” it would remind me of this bar, although it was a lot smaller than the TV version. It was run by a middle aged woman who spoke with the slight drawl of someone from the southern states, and seemed to be a place where locals rather than tourists hung out.

After showing ID, something that always amused anyone from England in California, where even the local crack dealer had to be 21 to have a shandy, we ordered a couple of beers and stood at the bar. The decor, popular in American bars at the time was 60 shades of brown which seemed to suck up any available light and create a sort of twilight world no matter the time of day.

There were three other people at the bar and two behind it. Our accents attracted questions regarding where we were from, what we were doing in the city, did we know the Queen, etc., and we chatted away with the guys who seemed like “ordinary working folk” and were very friendly in that way in which Americans in America often are. Finishing the first two, we figured we had plenty of time for one more leisurely drink and then we’d be off to prison. In the meantime a steady trickle of people who all seemed to know each other came in and the woman behind the bar would introduce the “young fellers from England” to them. The regulars seemed, to us, fairly old. To put that in perspective, Geoff was known as “young Geoff” as there were two Geoffs in the plumbers shop. “Old Geoff” must have been 32 at least. A man in a US postal service uniform was the next one in and we figured that most of the people in the bar, apart from the odd Tom Waits lookalike had jobs that started really early and came in for a drink when they had finished work or between shifts.


Just as we finished our second drink and were turning to go, two beers were brought to us “on the house”. Seemed rude to refuse so we figured we could catch the next ferry and dutifully drank the free beer. Next minute the postman says “get these guys another beer” and, even before we have finished the last two, more beer appears on the bar in front of us. Seemed a thing in the US that if a group of you each bought a round, then the bar would buy a round, presumably to get you to stay longer, but this was the only place I remember where they did it for just two people.


After drinking these, we get the postman, his friends and the bar staff a beer. This act ignited a beer frenzy, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker are all swilling them down and ordering more. Beers are coming from everywhere. I suppose being used to being in pubs from age 15 we are a bit immune to it and the Americans are amazed at how sober we are after having at least six beers at this point.

According to the bar staff, the US ‘merchant marine’ does not allow alcohol on board, consequently when ashore, they get drunk really quickly and ‘trash the place’. Our ability to stay fairly sober seems to impress our new friends and so more beer is ordered. We are now “drinking for England” and stand just a bit taller as we step up to the challenge of knocking it back for the Union Jack.

Geoff & Graham - Beer in Hand.


More patrons keep arriving, including a surprising number of postmen and everyone keeps buying us drinks. We decide that the sheer volume of liquid has to be cut down and ask for a bourbon and lemonade each.

The bar goes quiet and there are a lot of puzzled looks. If they had a piano player he would have paused. Then the woman behind the bar shouts in an accent not out of place on the Dukes of Hazzard, “Whisky sour... you mean whisky sour!”

She then pours us one of the only drinks I have ever had which was so sour it made my arse try to eat my underpants on the first sip... straight bourbon and a lot of pure lemon juice. We drink it (really quickly) to be polite but figure there is no way we can drink another, so after a bit more asking around discover that lemonade is known as 7-Up in America.


"Get these guys a couple of bourbon and sevens.” By now I think we have become a novelty act: “The incredible not affected by alcohol brothers,” and of course in retrospect, some of the crowd were testing how much it would take to get us shitfaced.


In theory, we still have time to get to the ferry terminal but every time we try to leave someone else gets us a drink. We suddenly realise we are possibly the only people in history who dream of escaping TO Alcatraz.


Still standing and acting fairly sober, the walk to the toilets and back is just a little mentally rehearsed though.

The bar buys everyone in the place yet another drink. We are still answering questions about all things UK, working on cruise ships, and by this time giving advice on the correct pronunciation of aluminium.


There are two things in life nobody expects: The first is The Spanish Inquisition, the second; printers on a cruise ship. While Geoff does not get the third degree over what plumbers “would have to do all day,” it is up to me to put the case for the defence to the accusation that four printers on board was overkill. As I gobbed off about Oriana News, log of my cruise, port informations, signs for boat stations, menus of course and a lot of mint sauce, the terrifying thought that one day I may have to get a real job occurred to me.

First time I found out that cruise ships carried printers was one day at work during my apprenticeship. A former employee came back for a visit dressed in what appeared to be a full Japanese Admiral’s uniform, although admittedly without the sword. Turned out he was now a printer on a Greek ship and they obviously loved a bit of bling. A few years later, the choice between a white boiler suit and black trousers/white shirt seemed a bit of a let down by comparison, although of course not having to listen to Nana Mouskouri songs more than made up for it.

There were plenty of other occupations unexpectedly represented at sea. Cunard for instance, employed kennel maids on the QE2, something P&O could have adopted during Aussie cruising.


Most of the patrons from ‘the morning shift’, have left the bar and gradually been replaced by a second wave of sociable Shermans. We are by now acting a lot more sober than we really are and when asked again about our jobs by some new interrogators, start to upsize them a touch. Think Geoff may have been the youngest chief officer in the fleet, although he could mimic the voice of the real one brilliantly, and did so for about two minutes until he mentioned his ‘bonnet’* and I gave it away by spitting bourbon over the bar, laughing. * Rory Smith, then Chief Officer, later Captain, would often refer to his uniform cap as a bonnet.

On the subject of impersonations, anyone who sailed on

the ‘O’ around that time will remember the brilliant mimicking of other crew members voices performed by Roman John*. Any impersonation of someone on board, even now, is usually an impression of the Roman doing an impression of the person.

* Someone who people think you have invented for comedy purposes when recalling things from back in the day, the Roman, real name Lance, was VERY interested in the Byzantine period of the Roman Empire and when not at work would dress accordingly. Tales concerning him are worthy of a whole book. Even though he kept us entertained, he was perhaps a bit of a lonely character.

At the other end of the imaginary employment scale, we may have also tried to convince some people that, since international maritime law now prohibited the keeping of a ship’s cat, we were ‘pest control officers’, a highly trained pair of nautical rat catchers. Though often thought of as gullible, the colonials did not go for this one. We confer quietly. “On a scale of 1-10, how pissed actually are you?” Coming to the joint decision of “not quite 11 but getting there,” we realise we must get out soon before our minor celebrity status as alcohol resistant ‘polite young men’ is rapidly downgraded to whatever the American term is for ‘pissed up twat6.’ “No honestly we have to go, it’s very nice of you but, err... we have to be on watch at 8 o’clock...” Having refused more drinks, something of a first for the average seaman, we see a gap in the crowd and make a break for it, pulling off the perfect getaway. Pushing the doors open, we congratulate ourselves... only to have to go back, pick up all the shopping bags and say another goodbye to our new friends and of course have one for the road.


When we finally do get out the door, strangely it’s not dark. Squinting at the brightness of the outside world after so long in the half light of the bar interior leads us to believe we may have been bitten by vampires and could at any moment be turned to dust by the sunlight. Besides having to keep a watchful eye out for Van Helsing, we now have to deal with all sorts of grown up stuff, like crossing roads, walking in a fairly straight line and working out where to head for next. We ‘steadily’ walk round the corner and decide that the first thing we need to do is get something to eat.

The street we have turned down seems to go on for ever and is blandly residential. Shielding my eyes from the rays from the skies while checking the back of my hand for signs of disintegration and thinking how amazingly not sober I am, I glance behind me. Geoff has disappeared, which is puzzling, especially as Fast Eddie was the only plumber on the ship, in the fleet, and possibly the world, who was not only a Geordie, but a bona fide member of the Magic Circle. Then he calls (Geoff, not Eddie) from behind the hedge he has just fallen through.

Clambering after him we both fall over and roll down a fairly steep “grassy knoll”, landing at the bottom of the slope laughing, as really silly drunk humour has kicked in. Sitting amid loads of bags of Levis we look up to see a whole restaurant full of diners staring at us from floor to ceiling windows.

Well, we have found somewhere to have something to eat, so pick ourselves and the bags up and go in search of the entrance, all the time zig-zagging to make it a difficult shot for Lee Harvey Oswald. It turns out to be a Holiday Inn or similar type hotel and we find our way into the restaurant.

Back then, especially in America, the customer was always right, even if he was “one of yer more relaxed” British seaman with bits of grass in his hair. No way we would have gained entry in the dreary ’elf and safety obsessed, smokeless, salad-fest of the modern world, let alone been served.

There is a song full of suggestions as to what to do with a drunken sailor. After considering his options, rather than “putting us in a long boat ’till we were sober,” the maître’d welcomed us as honoured guests.

Making his choice from the remarkably sheep-free menu, Geoff decides to be American and orders a “Burnt steak and a mess of greens” in an accent somewhere between Foghorn Leghorn7 and Buford T. Justice8. The waiter, possibly unfamiliar with Southend humour, raises his eyebrows and replies “We call that well done here sir,” with the veiled sarcasm that ‘friends of Dorothy9’ are really good at.

Before the food arrives we of course decide that what we really need is another drink so order some wine by the “what would you recommend?” method, as hopefully this will cover for the fact that we have no idea what any of the wines on the list are and don’t want to be taken the piss out of for ordering the septic equivalent of Blue Nun. To celebrate not having lost the camera, we take the only two pics of the day. One of each other. The camera was a Pentax ME Super with the capability of capturing the perfect image of a moment in time forever, utilising its almost infinite range of adjustments and settings... none of which were used.

What a pain ‘social’ photography was at that time, lugging round a bulky metal camera and twatting about with focal lengths and flash settings. Had some headscarf clad gypo looked into a crystal ball back then and foretold that point and shoot cameras that use no film and take great pics in low light, while hiding in a telephone, which in turn fits in your pocket, would one day be commonplace, then we would have put it down to too much acid in the ’60s. On the other hand one of those faded and often out of focus old photos is probably more treasured than 50 perfect modern ones. How many times can you recall a whole day just from one old pic?


Having eaten something and finished the wine, we sit back, light a cigarette, and drink our Irish coffees, considering ourselves to be playboys of the Western world as we watch the lights come on over the city and across the bay. Upholding the traditions and customs of British seamen, we indulge in a bit of bourbon philosophy and talk a fair amount of old shit. A popular saying on board at the time was “Where would you get it? You wouldn’t get this at home”, which for some reason I remember in a Scouse accent. As an observation, it was spot on.

Our heroes then set off into the night to find their way back to the ship. As sat nav was unavailable, we pretended to use nautical navigation methods to guide us. Following seabirds was a fairly crap first idea as it was dark, but celestial navigation worked a treat... along with the ship being all lit up at the bottom of the hill. One of the reasons the journey back to the ship took so long, as well as our slightly irregular footsteps, was crossing the road very carefully because we knew that in San Francisco it was common for Steve McQueen to come flying round the corner in a Mustang at any time. We wasted a fair amount of time in a futile search for Tony Bennett’s heart in case there was a reward, but eventually came to the conclusion that although San Francisco was a pretty cool place, it did have its faults.*

* earthquake joke

Arriving back at the ship, as we go up the gangway everyone else is all dressed up and going the other way. Are we coming for a drink? No thanks, just had one.


I never got to visit Alcatraz, but just hearing the name always reminds me of that ‘shore excursion’ when we were supposed to have given drinking a day off but, even with the best intentions, ended up getting ‘elephants for England10’. Excessive alcohol consumption was a far more lighthearted and fun leisure activity back then, after all, we had no sorrows to drown.

Graham Geoff

Maybe a little worse for wear here after knocking back a few in San Francisco

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Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson
Jul 24, 2023

Brilliantly written, brought back memories of much mis-spent time in foreign ports.

I love the remark about other departments onboard thinking you were overpaid and got too much time off, that applied on every ship I worked on as I was Casino Staff and got all of the port time off.....not so much about the pay though......😁

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