The Call of the Queen Mary. By Owen Zupp.
It’s not even a real coin. It’s a cheap memento, shiny and worthless. Still, throughout COVID I’ve looked at this souvenir with a different perspective – a small but happy reminder of life before the pandemic.
Long Beach on the Californian coast, south of Los Angeles, is a busy metropolitan hub. It’s not my favourite spot on the airline network, with a few areas to avoid and few forms of entertainment close at hand. However, it is home to the massive vessel, the Queen Mary – a comfortable walk from the hotel where we stayed as crew.
It once sat in company with Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” aircraft but is now anchored beside a decommissioned Soviet submarine. A must-see for tourists, the Queen Mary still spikes my sense of history as she saw her fair share of war, world events and celebrities as she plied the Atlantic after launching in 1936. Since the 1980s she has sat stationary but not idle, with millions of visitors taking in the tales emerging from her many vast decks.
So it was, on a sunny day before the world was locked down, that I found myself walking past the lighthouse on the hill and the occasional squirrel to cross the gangplank and come aboard the Queen Mary. An exhibition highlighted the “props” from the “Darkest Hour”, a movie highlighting the role of Sir Winston Churchill during the evacuation of Dunkirk. (Interestingly, Churchill travelled on the Queen Mary and his room is a popular with tourists booking accommodation).
I wandered the decks and engine room, reading every plaque that I can and even joined a group undertaking a “ghost tour”. While I am open to the possibility of spectres, I couldn’t help but silently chuckle as one member of the group continually spoke up that they were “sensing another presence”. Conveniently, each time they were sensing the presence immediately after the tour guide had given a detailed description.
The slope of the deck is something to witness as you stand at one end of a hallway and cast your eyes to the other. The sheer size of the massive turbines and the complexity of the systems and switches are a feat of engineering. The walls oozed stories and one could almost hear the piano playing in the foyer and the sound of children in the abandoned pool area.
Such exploration is what inspires me when I fly internationally. From Alcatraz Island to the Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo. And places far less known. All but a handful of my years flying have been in domestic skies and the chance to see the world was something that I had never truly imagined as a boy. Somehow, the skies that enveloped the globe became my home.
And then it all stopped.
Now I wonder when those days will return and when I will discover a previously unknown historical fact, or ride the Golden Gate Bridge, or visit the Dai-Ichi where General MacArthur rose and fell in the wake of World War Two. Or so many other amazing experiences. I have been fortunate to share many of those experiences with Kirrily and the kids and whatever the future holds, those memories will remain.
For now, I have a cheap medallion from the Queen Mary. On one side is featured an image of the mighty ship, her name and location. On the other a compass face and the saying that, “The ocean is calling and I must go”.
For now, “The sky is calling and I must go”. The only question is when.