Turning back the clock on the world’s last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer - Susan Morrison

When a paddle steamer gets ready to cast off, the note of her engine changes. It means a journey is about to begin. It's the most romantic sound in the world. Well, that and the words ‘I’ll do the dishes tonight’.
Turning back the clock on the world’s last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamerTurning back the clock on the world’s last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer
Turning back the clock on the world’s last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer

We were on the Waverley and we were goin’ doon the watter.

She’s a grand old lady, and possibly wearing better than me.

Almost half a century ago I was carried aboard by my dad. I was wearing my best white summer dress and Clarks sandals. He wore a tweedy jacket I remember being scratchy on my wee legs.

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A fair chunk of the trip was always spent just watching that diagonally mounted, triple expansion, reciprocating engine. Yes, I am my father’s daughter.

Above my head, the men of Glasgow talked of pressure, valves and pistons. When my dad announced that this was actual art, every single one of them agreed, which led me to believe that my dad always knew what he was talking about. Trust me, he didn’t.

When I stood in that engine room, my dad was near again for one tiny moment. My eyes watered. Well, it's hot and stuffy in there.

It was Waveley’s second last cruise of the year, or as the announcer frequently liked to say, ‘penultimate’.

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It was like he’d won the word in a raffle and loved to show it off. And quite right, too. He said it very well.

No-one made announcements when I was kid, not even safety ones. The crews back then regarded ticket holders as a sort of necessary evil.

If you wanted to know how the lifejackets worked, you read the poster, provided you could find it.

Now they tell you things not to do. For one thing, parents were asked not to hold their children above the height of the hand rail ‘for their safety’.

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Well, that’s a turn up for the books. When I was a kid sitting on the handrail swinging your feet over the Clyde for a few minutes was considered quite acceptable.

The announcer had his work cut out. There were at least two coach parties on board and both from England. This was causing mild concern.

People travelling with Travel Time Buses, the purser announced, were to leave the steamer at Greenock. People travelling with Happy Wanderer Tours to disembark at Kilcreggan.

There was a pause, an audible sigh, then “Please do not get the two mixed up", which makes me think it’s happened before. There may well be a community of random stranded English bus trip tourists up at Arrochar.

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Perhaps people need to be told more stuff these days. We docked at Greenock. The gangplanks were secured. A young woman with a toddler asked a passing crew member which side she should get off? He sighed, and suggested not the side with all the water.

We got off at Dunoon, a childhood haunt. The weather was glorious.

It's a pebble beach, and I regained my stone skimming skills, managing to get five skips. But nobody saw it, so it doesn’t count, I accept that.

The trip home was at sunset and, as we like to say, pure magic.

As we disembarked, the crew looked shattered, but chuffed, and they should. Thank you for looking after two old ladies, Waverley, and me