When I was just 13, I was lucky enough to take an Education Cruise on the SS Uganda, later to achieve fame as the Hospital ship for the British Forces involved in the Falklands Conflict.
This was my first trip away from my parents and whilst I'll admit to a few tiny pangs of homesickness as we left Valetta harbour, they were fleeting and it was, without doubt, the most liberating experience of my life
to that point, being able to travel around and make decisions in a way I'd never done before.
It was also a wonderful trip, with opportunities to see things I probably never would have seen otherwise, which sticks in my mind clearly all these years later and I recently had the horrible little 110 slides converted to digital images, so what better to do with some of them than
put them up on the website.
The first adventure was my first ever flight, from Gatwick in a Comet! It was an aged Dan Air plane then, but looking back it's kind of cool to know I flew in the first ever jet airliner.
The highlight of the flight was the view of the Alps, I fancied skiing even then, but little knew I'd spend so many holidays there later.
Fairly soon (although it was probably 3 hours or more, slow by today's standards) we reached Malta and it was exciting to see the island and try and pick out the Uganda from the air.
We boarded the ship on arrival and were assigned our dorms (I recall I was in Wingate, named after the General who led the 'Chindits' against the Japanese in WW2) which seemed to be perilously below
The next day we were taken ashore to Valetta in the ship's launches from small jetties that lowered from either side of the ship just above the waterline.
We visited the Prime Minister's residence and actually bumped into the Prime Minister himself (Don Minter?), who welcomed us to Malta.
I didn't like Malta much at the time, but the weather was horrible (as you can see).
The people were pretty friendly though as I recall, although that might have been partly due to us being some of the very few out of season visitors there in January.
I do recall a rather fun horse drawn taxi ride that 3 of us took back to the ship.
After our full day there, it was back to the SS Uganda.
We waved and raised our thumbs to the dock workers as we left and a few waved back, although I stopped the 'thumbs up' sign when an older girl wondered allowed if it might be an obscene gesture to the Maltese - I've no idea if it is!
As the sun set, we pulled out of Valetta to begin what felt like the real start of the adventure.
The next day and a half were spent at sea, which was rather exciting in some ways.
We had some 'lessons', which mainly consisted of telling us about places we were going to visit (I think we had journals to keep too, but I can't find mine now or this report would be more
definitive), did an emergency drill, played quoits (quite a lot as I remember), had a visit to the bridge and generally got into the swing of life on a ship.
Meal times were quite different as we had to queue for the galley at set times depending on our dormitory (I was in Wingate, which I was sure was down beneath the waterline!) and most of the rooms (galley, dorms, etc)
had no windows, so we spent as much time as we could up on deck.
We docked in Alexandria, excited to be going ashore in another country.
Our one day in Egypt was to be a busy one.
We drove to Cairo, first of all, and visited the Cairo museum, home to the Tutankahmun collection.
I'd be fortunate enough to see the excellent display at the British Museum, so it was quite strange to be one of a handful of people wandering around the pieces, including the gold Death Mask that had been the climax of the
British Museum exhibiton (which lead you from darkened chamber to darkened chamber). Here it was just in a glass case in one of the large halls with many other pieces, great and small.
There was also a real Mummy in there, which looked rather sad in its glass case and, although it was interesting, I still recall that it seemed a little disrespectful to be staring at a long dead corpse, even moreso the 'Urrrrgggghhhhh, gross!' comments
that some of my schoolmates greeted the sight with.
Following the museum we were herded back into coaches and driving to the Pyramids on the edge of town at Giza.
In some ways this was the highlight of the cruise, as the Pyramids and the Sphinx are amazing, both for their age and relatively good condition and the achievement they must have represented for the primitive tools and equipment
people had at the time.
What took the shine off a bit, was the constant harasment by begging children. We were taught to say "Imshi", but when they're asking for money in English (and even German, when I 'cleverly' decided to have "Kein Geld"!), it's a bit
difficult. This went on everywhere we went and most of us kids gave some a few pence, but the trouble was they were like pigeons in the park - As soon as they spotted you give one kid some money, they all descended on you demanding their
Egypt was fun and seeing the Pyramids was fantastic, but I've never felt the urge to return.
We spent two days in 'The Holy Land'.
I'm not (and wasn't then) a religious person, but Israel moved me even at 13.
Maybe it was the impression I had of a little country refusing to be bowed by the big bullying neighbours or maybe it was the obvious love for their land (without the offence 'patrotism' Americans exhibit)
that the people had (apparent in their nature and in the way they made the desert flourish), but I could sense why Israeli's felt Israel was worth fighting for.
Back then it, despite being quite a tense place to visit (we'd been warned not to mention our next destination whilst in Egpyt), it was fairly easy to move around within Israel.
The obvious highlight was our visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
We visited the Wailing Wall (although I didn't feel it right to go up and get my photo taken amongst people at prayer as some did), Jesus' alleged birthplace (in Bethlehem) and various other sites which have faded from memory. We also walked the Via Dolorosa (The route Jesus is said to have taken on his way to his crucifixion), which
was great as it passed through centuries old Jerusalem and a Souk like environment. The sense of history was overwhelming - God knows what Americans make of it!
Pretty young Israeli women with machine guns (maybe 18 or 19) at services we stopped at for drinks - Wrecked vehicles left by the roadside from wars.
Dead Sea - didn't get to float on it, but I can confirm it's very salty!
Next stop was Crete or more specifically Konossos.
The home of the Minotaur and numerous other Greek myths, not least of which was (the guide claimed) the world's first flush toilets!
Konossos was quite impressive (not quite on the scale of Pompeii, but still) with many buildings still recognisable and the tour was pretty interesting as I recall (There were a few photos, which suggests I was interested).
We were supposed to go to Turkey, but the sea was too rough for the little boats to get launched, so we cruised onto the relative calm of Kos.
This remains a lovely memory - We wandered around the near abandoned harbour town, dodging golf-ball sized hailstones briefly, but the sun was soon out and it was a wonderfully calm, peaceful
afternoon which has left a lasting impression of Kos as a truly restful place, which I'm sure isn't the case in the height of the Summer season!
Piraeus, near Athens, was our final port of call.
Once docked we boarded coaches and took a trip to Athens to visit the Parthenon, which was pretty impressive.
We had a few hours hanging around Piraeus and after buying some lunch we saw a funeral procession go past and noticed the corpse was in an open (or maybe even glass, it was a long while ago) coffin!
The flight home was uneventful (by now I was an old hand at flying!) and to this day I still think of the coach journey back whenever I pass the hotel at Picket Post in the New Forest, which I clearly recall thinking meant I was nearly home.
It was a great experience for a young lad and it's a shame that kids don't get these kinds of opportunities these days.