Our passenger roster was completed when Dave joined us at Salerno. We are now a compact group of five, who sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner together.
Rudolph, the urbane and well-travelled Swiss chemist who will be making to complete month-long trip from Antwerp to Alexandria and back remarked that we had been joined by another passenger. I was pleased, thinking he would dilute Phil the retired Liverpudilan communications engineer taking his old BMW to his new, Cypriot retirement home.
Phil is sixty-eight and a heavy smoker who shows more than a passing resemblance to W.H. Auden who was once described as having a face that looked like a wedding cake, left out in the rain… He never talks; he addresses an audience, believing that he is the most humorous and interesting man on the planet. He is not and I have an aversion to ex-servicemen who call Lefkosia [Nicosia] “Nic” and refuse French mustard because in 1984, when they were working on the channel tunnel, had to walk four-and-a-half miles along the service tunnel to get out after his shift because the French suddenly went on strike. He likes to quote Churchill and says he never burns in the sun, although his back and legs were red raw after two days. I could go on and quote his recipe for mashed potatoes and tips on how to ensure that your pickled onions remain crisp, but wont…
As we steamed out of port I met Dave coming back from the stern, where he had been photographing the port, receding into the afternoon heat-haze. Short and stocky, with large tattoos on his arms [Mum, Dad, hearts with daggers through them] and short-cropped hair. I was not impressed as he was about to walk past me without a word. I stopped, gave him a cheery “hello” and introduced myself. My first impression was not good. I though “this guy is either going to get on with our Phil like a house on fire, or punch his lights out”.
It turns out that he is a great travelling companion, a lively and interesting talker with a wealth of experience, which he shares openly, listening as much as speaking. A blessed relief.
Dave is ex-services and like Phil, spent some time on Cyprus where he now owns a villa, near Paphos. He runs a small haulage company located between Hull and York, which he built up from scratch after leaving the army. At the age of 43 he is clearly an ambitious, hard worker, with good business sense but not a hard-grafting Yorkshireman of the old school. He has travelled widely and enjoys the good things of life but is neither snobbish and condescending nor defiantly working-class and arrogant.
Suddenly, mealtimes are much quieter and Phil doesn’t feel the need to fill every gap in the conversation with his observations on life. Dave somehow has provided a necessary balance at the table but I still find myself avoiding Phil’s eyes and concentrating on my pasta whenever he opens his mouth…