The Voyage of the Golden Handshake

BOOK: The Voyage of the Golden Handshake
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THE VOYAGE OF THE
GOLDEN HANDSHAKE

Terry Waite CBE

SILVERTAIL BOOKS •
London

 

 

This book is dedicated to all my fellow passengers and crew with whom I have sailed on various ships across the years. All characters in this book are fictitious and any similarities with any living persons are entirely coincidental.

The lovely thing about cruising is that planning usually turns out to be of little use.

Dom Degnon

 

If the highest aim of a Captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.

Thomas Aquinas

 

Being in a ship is like being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.

Samuel Johnson

It was a raw winter’s morning in Grimsby. Albert Hardcastle braced himself to step out of bed into the chill of a bedroom that was a stranger to warmth. Central heating had yet to be installed and, given Albert’s meagre salary as a lowly shop assistant at the local Co-op, it was unlikely ever to be, despite government promises of special help for the elderly. His wife of forty years, Alice, slept soundly on as she always had done. It had been Albert’s practice for as long as he could remember to stumble down the stairway of their modest terraced house and make an early morning cup of tea, and he was just about to leave the warmth of his bed for the sub-arctic temperature of the kitchen when he stopped.

‘Good God!’ he cried, to the consternation of Alice who sat up in bed with a start. ‘Eh, Alice luv, no more work. I’ve just remembered – I’m retired this very day!’

‘Does that stop you making tea?’ queried Alice, somewhat crossly.

‘Well no, not exactly,’ replied Albert, ‘but it does mean I don’t have to get up right at this very moment.’

‘Don’t get idle, Albert Hardcastle. You may have finished with the Co-op, but you’ve still to do a few simple tasks in the home. It’s a cold morning, and a cup of tea would be very welcome, thank you.’

Accustomed as he was to obeying the instructions of his wife, Albert gingerly levered himself out of bed. Fine start to retirement, he thought as he padded across the bedroom looking for his trousers and his carpet slippers. In a few moments he was dressed and in the kitchen making tea.

Yesterday, the fifteenth of December 2013, had been his final day at the Co-op. Albert had spent all his working life in the grocery business, starting life as a van boy delivering orders, progressing to being in charge of the provision counter, and when the conversion to a semi-supermarket establishment took place, he spent the day packing shelves and collecting the trolleys and baskets that customers left littered around the shop floor. He wasn’t a bit sorry to leave a job that had now become drudgery.

 

Meanwhile, many miles away at ‘The Bridge’, in Frinton-on-Sea, a late-Victorian residence with views across the bleak English Channel, retired Rear Admiral Sir Benbow Harrington also prepared to face a new day. Although the Admiral had been retired from the Royal Navy for many years, his life was by no means devoid of activity.

Sir Benbow Harrington had had a very full life in the Senior
Service and (contrary to the opinions of his superiors) considered that he had had a successful career. Admittedly, he had been rapidly promoted to remove him from the scene of several disasters and thus render him harmless. As a junior officer, the part-sinking of a destroyer under his command was, he claimed, an unfortunate accident. From there on, he spent the major part of his career in various shore establishments where, alas, trouble followed him as the proverbial lamb followed Mary. There was an unexplained fire on HMS
Otanga
in deepest Devon; a mutiny when he was in command of HMS
Pitcairn
, and reams of missing files when for a year or so he was lodged with the Admiralty in London. The latter incident stimulated the Navy to move him still further higher up the chain of command and then prematurely retire him - much to the relief of the noble Sea Lords.

Admiral Benbow was not a man to give up the sea lightly, however, and in no time at all had established himself as the proud owner of a small passenger vessel which he renamed the
Golden Sovereign
. During the holiday season the Admiral could be seen at the helm of this ancient packet, ferrying bemused holidaymakers from Frinton along the coast to Harwich and back. Lady Felicity Harrington supervised the culinary requirements, which in the main consisted of a variety of fish-paste sandwiches and home-made sponge cakes.

For the first time in his less than glamorous career the Admiral was at long last experiencing the sweet savour of success.
The
Golden Sovereign
made a modest profit and thoughts of expansion crowded into its owner’s ever-fertile mind. As a first step, building on the name of his flagship, he established a new company which he grandly named Golden Oceans. Now, well on the road to becoming a shipping magnate, he acquired a second vessel, the
Golden Crown
, which enabled holiday-makers to view the delights of Poole Harbour. In no time at all, the
Crown
was joined by the
Golden Guinea
, which sailed on a daily basis along the Thames between Greenwich and Westminster Pier.

Since leaving the service of Her Britannic Majesty, nothing but success seemed to have followed the old Sea Dog. On the very morning that Albert Hardcastle in Grimsby dipped a spoon into the tea caddy to make a warming brew, Sir Benbow Harrington down in Frinton-on-Sea was planning a major development which would bring these two unlikely characters together in adventures that neither could ever have dreamed of, nor possibly foreseen.

Sunday morning in Grimsby was hardly a festive occasion. For much of the year, icy winds swept across this bleak outpost of a once thriving fishing industry. Although fishing on a large scale had departed the town, visitors swore that the municipality continued to be permeated with the odour of stale fish, a slander vehemently denied by local residents. As the bells of Grimsby Minster beckoned the faithful to enter and face hypothermia, whilst singing about heavenly delights, Albert Hardcastle trudged homewards from his regular visit to the newsagent.

Come winter or summer, each Sabbath morn, Albert would make his pilgrimage to exchange greetings with Mr Khan, who many seasons previously had replaced Charlie Earnshaw as proprietor of the corner shop. Being fellow shopworkers, Charlie and Albert had much in common and would spend a good half-hour discussing football, local politics or nothing in particular. Mr Khan was less communicative than his predecessor, and as Albert’s horizon hardly extended beyond the Lincolnshire boundary, and Mr Khan had yet to master the local dialect, there was little to talk about. Clutching his newspaper, Albert let
himself back into the house where his wife was pouring herself a second cup of tea.

‘Well, Albert,’ she said as she slopped hot tea into the saucer and cooled it with blasts of air from her pursed lips, ‘You’re a free man now - and tomorrow and the day after that. What now?’

‘What do you mean, luv?’ asked Albert, opening his paper. ‘Nowt’s changed.’

‘Nowt’s changed?’ repeated Alice incredulously. ‘
Nowt’s
changed
? Come on, Albert lad. If you think I’m going to put up with you sitting around all day gawking at the paper, then have another think. Have you seen the state of the kitchen? And take a look in the front room. If that doesn’t need papering, then I’m Dutch. How long is it since we spoke about double-glazing? Come on Albert, how long?’

Albert sank deeper in his armchair, his depression increasing as he read the dismal results of Grimsby Town football team who had played the previous afternoon. His mood brightened slightly as he turned the page and gazed solemnly at a dusky maiden reclining on a tropical beach. Alice didn’t wait for him to answer but slurped the remainder of her tea and vanished into the kitchen. Albert continued to peruse his newspaper as page after page extolled the delights of foreign travel, something that lay quite outside his limited experience of the world beyond Grimsby. He had visited London once to see the Co-op Brass Band compete in the Royal Albert Hall and had been to Chester
when, as manager of the provision counter, he attended a Cheshire Cheese festival. Apart from that, Grimsby and Cleethorpes were his territory.

Albert was still miles away in deepest Borneo when his wife marched back into the living room.

‘Come on, Albert,’ she said. ‘Now’s the time for a bit of action. You can’t decorate today, but you can get your old working suit ready to take to the cleaners. There’s plenty of life in it yet and it will do for when we visit Cousin Pam in Cleethorpes. Come on now, lad. Make haste.’

Reluctantly Albert rose from the fireside and ascended the staircase. He removed the suit from its hanger and returned to the kitchen.

‘Here you are, luv,’ he said as he obediently handed the jacket and trousers to his wife.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve had the common sense to look in the pockets,’ she said, as she removed a used handkerchief and a packet of cough sweets from his trousers.

‘Hey up!’ she exclaimed as she dug into the inside pocket of his jacket. ‘What’s this?’ She removed a small sealed white envelope inscribed with his name.

‘Eh luv,’ said Albert, ‘I’d quite forgotten. Just before I came home last night, Mary and Karen from the stockroom gave it to me. They said it was a surprise gift.’

‘Well,’ said Alice impatiently, ‘better open it, eh?’

Albert carefully tore along the top of the packet and removed three small tickets.

‘By go,’ he said, ‘lottery tickets!’

His wife gave a grunt. ‘Some gift,’ she said. ‘Not a chance Albert. Not a bloomin’ chance.’

 

Admiral Sir Benbow Harrington seated himself in his Captain’s chair in front of a huge ornate desk. He claimed that it was made from the original timbers of Nelson’s flagship, HMS
Vanguard
. This ship had a nasty accident when entering Plymouth in 1794 and had to be partly dismantled before being rebuilt. It was then that Benbow claimed some of the timbers were purloined for his desk, although this claim was treated with considerable scepticism by his wife. The desk was placed in front of a bow window from which there was a distant view of the English Channel. An ancient brass telescope on a tripod remained permanently trained on the ocean, although very little shipping ever passed by.

On the desk stood an empty in-tray complemented by an equally empty out-tray. Routine correspondence dealing with the business of Golden Oceans was dealt with by the Admiral’s agent Harry Parkhurst, who was conveniently situated in South-end-on-Sea. Harry would occasionally telephone the Admiral if there was a matter that required an executive decision but, more often than not, he was left to manage the fleet - which was fortunate,
as the Admiral was not the brightest beam on the lighthouse. The success of the company was largely due to Harry who, when he retired as a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, had gained a wealth of business experience managing a punting enterprise in Cambridge.

The Admiral had just opened his copy of
The Times
and was turning to the obituary page when the door of his study burst open and Lady Felicity blustered into the room.

‘Benbow!’ she cried. ‘What have you been up to?’

The Admiral swivelled round in his chair and saw that his wife was carrying several items of mail.

‘I don’t think we have ever had this many letters since you announced your retirement from the Royal Navy!’ she exclaimed. ‘There must be at least seven here.’ She planted them firmly on the desk.

Benbow gave a satisfied grunt.

‘Ah!’ he said. ‘These will be the replies to my advertisement placed last week in the Nautical News.’

‘Advertisement?’ queried Lady Felicity. ‘What advertisement?’

 

For the past few weeks, thoughts of expansion had been occupying the Admiral’s active mind. It all began when Harry Parkhurst telephoned him with what he said was ‘a real corker.’ A friend of his, who ran a business transporting horses from England to
France, was about to retire and the vessel, which for the past twenty years had carried hundreds of these unfortunate animals to an uncertain future, was ‘going for a snip.’

‘It’s a beauty, Admiral,’ said Harry. ‘With a bit of work it would make a lovely addition to the Line. My Cousin Ted in Chatham would do a bit of pre-fabricated work inside and we could tack on a few balconies - and bingo! Another cruise ship!’

The Admiral was greatly taken with the idea, especially as the ship could be leased at a sum easily paid for from the profits now coming in from the other Ships of the Line. Harry was given permission to ‘Go full steam ahead.’

 

‘Well, dear,’ said Sir Benbow, ‘I have been thinking of expanding Golden Oceans into what I believe will become the major cruising company of the British Isles. A luxury cruise ship has been drawn to Harry’s attention and at this very moment is being refitted at Chatham.

We are now set fair for a significant expansion into the increasingly popular cruise market.’

Lady Felicity did not reply immediately. She was reflecting on the past when her husband had got carried away with some scheme or other that inevitably ended in disaster. There was the time when he sank his first command by being too enthusiastic in a naval exercise off Southend-on-Sea. To this day it remained a mystery to Lady Felicity how he managed such a calamity and,
had her uncle not been First Sea Lord, he would have undoubtedly faced a Court Martial. As it was, he was speedily transferred to a shore station where the dangers of sinking the ship were negligible. Alas, there was trouble here also when he misplaced all the Service records of the ratings, who consequently did not get home leave for some twelve months. He seemed to have a propensity for misplacing documents, for when he was given promotion and a position with the War Office in London, he incinerated thousands of secret files in a misplaced attempt to reorganise the paperwork. It was then that he was promoted again and retired. However, she had to admit that since he had formed a partnership with Harry, things had gone remarkably well.

‘Well dear, I hope you’re right,’ she said somewhat anxiously. ‘We really don’t want trouble at this stage in our lives. But you mentioned an advertisement, Benbow. What is that all about?’

‘Well,’ said the Admiral as he placed the unopened letters into his in-tray. ‘As soon as this new ship is ready - and that will only be a matter of weeks - I intend to launch the first World Cruise for Golden Oceans. For that venture I shall need an experienced crew. These letters will be applications for the all-important post of Captain of the SS
Golden Handshak
e for that is what I intend to call this proud new addition to the Golden Oceans Line.’

Lady Harrington held her tongue. Her face was impassive
but inwardly she could see dark clouds on the horizon. She left the room without uttering another word.

 

Albert Hardcastle, retired grocer and man of leisure, sat immobile in his chair in front of the fire. For once, his wife sat silently opposite him, too shaken to move.

‘It can’t be right, lad,’ she muttered in a half-whisper when she had summoned enough strength to speak. ‘It can’t - can it?’

Albert picked up the paper as he had done several times in the last fifteen minutes. There, at the bottom of the page, was printed a series of numbers that exactly corresponded with the numbers on one of the tickets that he clutched tightly in his fist.

‘It is luv,’ he murmured. ‘Six million, six hundred and sixty six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six pounds and six pence. It
is
right.’

For a brief moment silence reigned in the Hardcastle household. Finally Albert spoke.

‘It’s a lot of brass, Alice luv, a lot of brass. I might even buy a few decent racing pigeons now.’

For once in her life Alice was too stunned to think of anything to say. Albert picked up the paper which had dropped to the floor and stared yet again at the numbers.

‘By go,’ he said. ‘By go.’

BOOK: The Voyage of the Golden Handshake
6.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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