I recently travelled to Southampton on business and hearing the Queen Mary 2 was in her home berth I drove down to Town Quay to see if I could catch a glimpse. I need have had no doubt; docked alongside the road named for her owners, Cunard’s flagship rose imperiously, like a floating city, high above the dockyard skyline. Eleven years ago, at her launch, QM2's 148,528 tonnes made her the largest ocean liner built and she is still the only one plying the high seas between Southampton and New York.
The sun glinted off the mighty, snow-white flanks and I confess to feeling the prickle of a tear in my eye as I remembered my own sea-faring days in the ships’ companies of several of Her Majesty’s sleek grey messengers of death. Eventually, nostalgia trip completed I decided to head for home and as I drove towards Ocean Village the mighty vessel dominated my rear view for a while before receding into the distance. One last stop for fuel and I would be headed back up the M3.
The queue for the fuel station was unexpectedly heavy as people topped up for the forecast sunny weekend ahead, although for the life of me I have never understood what urges people to hit the roads in the summer heat when a shady garden, a good book, some mellow tunes, an al fresco salad and a few bottles of chilled Vino Collapso contain within their simplicity the very essence of heaven on earth. Still, I had a good few miles to go, so as I couldn’t afford to risk setting off without a fill I opted to wait.
I wound down my windows as the temperature gauge started to climb, to let in some cooling air. It also let in the sounds and smells of the busy forecourt and I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation taking place between the owners of two cars being re-fuelled just ahead of me. The lady owner of a shabby old diesel Renault Kangoo was admiring the brand new metallic blue Range Rover of her parallel neighbour, both having parked so that their filler caps were on the offsides relative to the pumps.
The Rover lady was keen to oblige by offering up her vital statistics for scrutiny. “Oh yes, she said, I only just bought it. This is the first time I’ve had to fill up, actually.” She continued, “It’s the five litre V8. A bit thirsty but my, how she handles; like a sports car, really. All leather seats – antelope hide, with multi-zone seat and spinal heating, all computer controlled. And it can give you a back massage while you are idling in traffic.” The Renault lady was in awe and tentatively offered the view that if must have cost a pretty penny.
“Well,” said the driver in an accent like cut glass, “my husband does work for Cunard, you know.” She instinctively nodded in the general direction of the docks where the distant funnels of the QM2 were just visible in the haze. The Renault driver looked a little put out. She thought for a second and then replied, huffily, “Well, my husband could never afford a car like that no matter HOW fucking hard he works!”