Sinking the Unsinkable, Chapter 4

The story so far: It’s been far from plain sailing for the RMS Torytanic as the officers struggle to cope with dissent in steerage and rebellion in first class. There’s trouble in the engine room too but chief engineer Osborne has promised Captain Cameron the ship can handle the stormy weather ahead.

Ship’s journal of Captain D.W.D Cameron, Esq, Wednesday December 7: Problems in first class. The chief steward Mr Duncan Smith tells me that some of the well-heeled object to our plans to charge those in steerage extra if they refuse to share their hammocks. I’ve had a word with the drinks steward, chap named Freud, seems very capable, and he’s promised to keep an eye on the situation.

Thursday December 15: One of the first-class passengers, a Lord Best, though I cannot imagine where he is lord of exactly, has convinced many of the rest of them that our plans for what he calls a hammock tax are unfair. Freud seems quite unable to control the situation and I’m reminded that he was also the drinks steward on RMS Labour, which does not seem good news at all.

Wednesday December 22: This is better. Our assistant purser, Mr Shipps, is finally ready to unveil our new scheme to give third-class passengers the chance to buy their hammocks. Each of them will get a 50 shilling discount towards the purchase and for every one we sell we’ll replace it with one our new affordable hammocks! ‘Capital idea, Shipps,’ I said, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘Just the ticket for the accommodation revolution I promised when we embarked on our voyage.’

The normally confident Mr Shipps looked a little sheepish at this and that’s when I realised what had been bothering me about the whole idea. ‘Tell me, Mr Shipps,’ I said. ‘Why are we announcing this in the dead of night just before Christmas when everyone’s gone to bed? When can I tell people the new replacement ones will be ready?’

He hesitated and looked a bit sheepish. ‘Actually, captain, I would phrase that rather carefully if I were you,’ he said, not looking me in the eye.

Saturday December 24: To a charming carol concert with Samantha and the family. We even had some seasonal snow thanks to the shrewd decision by Chief Engineer Osborne to take a more northerly course for this crossing. Several large icebergs sighted today but he assures me they are no threat to an unsinkable ship like RMS Torytanic!

Sunday December 25: With Samantha to distribute Christmas cheer and gifts for the crew. My first lieutenant Mr Clegg seemed less than happy with his present (a jigsaw map of the British Empire) but I ignored him as usual.

Tuesday January 3: Mr Duncan Smith tells me he’s found a new solution to our accommodation crisis. Apparently, we’ve capped payments for cabins and hammocks in third class as a way to get some of the owners to reduce their charges. He assures me that this will work – eventually. As a purely temporary measure he has worked with Mr Shipps to convert some of the lifeboats into temporary berths for some of the more unfortunate and impecunious passengers. ‘That doesn’t sound very safe to me,’ I objected. He merely winked and said ‘I tell them it’s the safest place on the ship, captain.’ I do hope he knows what he is doing.

Tuesday January 10: I’ve finally decided where to put my new train set! The trains will set off from my cabin and head off straight down through the ward room and eventually all the way through to the bridge. Disappointed that not everyone seems to share my excitement. It’s true that we’ll have to demolish a few cabins in second class and it could be a bit of a squeeze in parts of steerage but that seems a small price to pay for something that will bring such enjoyment to the ship. I thought that at last I’d have a hobby in common with my father-in-law Lord Astor but when I told him he just spluttered something about me being a ‘damned fool’.

Wednesday January 11: A real breakthrough in our accommodation crisis. Apparently the owners of some of the berths and hammocks in third class have started to reduce their charges because we’ve cut what we pay them. One of the former crew of RMS Labour, a man called Dromey, challenged me about this but I told him we will be proved right. Mr Duncan Smith had better be right!

Originally published in 24Housing magazine. Part 1 here, Part 2 here. Part 3 here

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