CHAPTER 13. The Ship

Now that it has come to the time to describe the boat I find it difficult to get a starting point. We all know something about the Orcades, because a certain amount of information is given in the advertising leaflets. Although these fulfil a valuable purpose from the point of view of the shipping company there are other sides of life on board a boat which can only be appreciated by experience.

World Tour 1938
Children’s playroom “Orcades”

We are all accustomed to taking things for granted. We book our berth on a ship because we are told she is good or because it suits our arrangements to sail at that particular time. If we pay first class fares we expect everything to be first class and we complain if the food is not up to standard or the rooms comfortable. We expect the same or even better service from an ocean liner than from a first class hotel. On this trip I have made some enquiries as to the internal running of a ship and the result has been so staggering to me that I believe you will find it interesting to know more about it.

These enquiries, started in a very remarkable manner, led me from one official to another until I found myself knocking at the door of the office of the chief steward. Let me explain that this man is not a steward, but is a man responsible for the whole of the supplies of every kind which are on the ship, for the feeding of all passengers and crew and for the general service to all passengers. Therefore, he must be a man of considerable ability and experience. He is directly responsible to the captain, but the captain never seems to interfere with the chief steward.

My knock brought a gruff and very official “Come in”. I entered and found myself in a tasteful and luxuriously furnished office. From the look I was given I saw at once that he was an important officer and was used to being treated with deference. Adopting something of the same air as being most suitable for the occasion I said, “I have been referred to you as being the correct officer to tell me something about the work of providing for the couple of thousand people afloat on this boat”.

“That is rather a big order, and just at present I am extremely busy”, he replied.

“Of course, I can see that, but I thought perhaps I might be able to make an appointment with you for some time in the future”.

“For what purpose do you require the information?”

This caught me rather unaware and I saw there would have to be some good reason for this man to give me his time and also the information, so I thought quickly and said, “Well, I do a little writing and am now gathering information for a record of this trip”.

“Is it going to be published?”

In a moment I was led into the trap, but having started I had to see it through. If I said it would be published I would probably get the information, but if not, I would probably be considered as just another nuisance and get nothing.

“Yes”, I replied without hesitation, “I hope it will be accepted for publication, but I have not yet decided the exact form it will take”.

“Ah!” he said, “I often wish that I was an author. There is a wonderful story to be written one day about the life of a chief steward”. There was a knock at the door.

“If you please, sir, the Captain’s compliments, and he would like you to know there is unnecessary smoke”. When he left he turned to me and said, “That is one of the many matters over which I am responsible”. I admitted I could not understand the message.

“Well”, he said, “Our galley ovens burn oil and if the combustion is not correct the smoke goes out through the funnel. That smoke will leave smuts or pieces of soot about the decks which might cause some inconvenience to the passengers by soiling their clothes. Secondly, the man on watch is supposed to report to the Captain if he sees anything like this and then I hear about it and have to get it put right”.

This little interlude permitted me to break away from the question of being an author and I asked him a few things about the boat. However, as he was then about to keep another important appointment, he asked me to see him some time later and he would be pleased to show me anything I wanted to see and tell me all he knew about the boat. I thanked him and left, but afterwards returned with my card and wrote on it that “it would help me if the fact of my writing were kept confidential”.

One of the most important parts of a ship is the store and kitchen. If anything goes wrong with either of these there is trouble. The invitation to see the galley, or kitchen was accepted at a strange moment, but I wanted to see the conditions at their worst and so just about the time we were crossing the equator I arranged with the chief steward to go there with him when the dinner was being served. I went down in a shirt and shorts, but I found I could not stand the heat with even that small amount of clothing on.

It was 7 p.m. and the tourist class dinner as well as the first sitting for the first class passengers was being served. There was a row of stewards at a small counter just wide enough to take a tray. They formed a queue as they came in and they slid their tray along the counter at that section where the food for their orders was being supplied. I watched several men carving roast leg of lamb. With long, sharp, curved knives they held the leg in one hand and carved with the other, picking up the piece of meat and placing it neatly on the plate with their fingers.

Chap13_016a_detail3I remarked how particular the stewards were in the diningroom never to touch anything with their fingers and even if they wanted to pick up a roll to put on a plate to take across to a table it was always done with a fork and spoon in the orthodox manner. A moment’s thought and I could see how utterly impossible it would be for such a procedure to be followed in the kitchen and in any case, the fingers were touching the food all the time and they were kept quite clean. If any man left the galley or his work for a moment, he washed his hands when he returned to his job. As soon as the meat was served the steward passed on the gravy and mint sauce. A cover was placed over the plate and he went on to the vegetables. With a ladle these were also served right at the moment from hot pot, so that everything reached the passenger as close to the manner in which food is served in a home as it is possible to do.

By this time the plates and spoons were being brought back from those who had already finished their soup and they were put down by the stewards at a counter right inside the door. Everything was arranged so that there was a minimum of walking and delay in serving. These plates and spoons were immediately washed. One man took up a dozen or so plates and put them down beside him. One at a time he dropped them down into very hot, soapy water between two revolving brushes. They were thus scraped on both sides at once. He lifted them out separately and put them into another rack just above him. When the rack was filled, he just gave it a push and it went into the next department. Here another man took the rack just as it stood and dipped the whole thing into clean boiling water, pulling it up and down several times. This gave the final rinsing and they were put back on the same shelf and pushed along further. In a few seconds they were dry and a third man took them and stacked them ready for issue to the stewards as they were required. The cleansing was hygienic and complete.

We went a little further to watch the cooking. Two separate meals are cooked in the kitchen at the same time, one for the tourist passengers and one for the first class passengers. The cooking arrangements are so designed that the meals for the two classes are entirely separate and yet they are in the same galley. As the kitchen is between the two diningrooms the stewards from the tourist passengers enter at one side of the kitchen and those for the first class on the other. Not only are the two separate meals cooked for the two classes, but two more separate meals are cooked for the second sitting of each class, which is an hour later, the first sitting being at 7 p.m. for dinner and the second sitting at 8 p.m.

This latter hour may appear to be very late for a dinner, but hours and even days are forgotten on board ship. We scarcely ever went to bed before midnight by the clock, but we even lost faith in clocks, because the time was being altered all through the day according to the rate and direction of our travel. I gave up wearing a watch, as there were electric clocks all over the ship and in any case my watch never agreed with the ship’s clocks, because I did not know when the clocks were altered. The time by which we all measured our day was the number of hours between meals and a few hours for bed.

To return to the meals, as soon as the meal for the first sitting is finished the whole of the servery is completely cleaned so that a fresh start is made for the meal for the second sitting.

We came to the ovens just at the moment when one of the cooks was testing some turkeys which were being roasted for the first class. Seeing so many large baking dishes filled with them I asked, “How many of these are you cooking?” To my surprise, the chief steward replied, “44”. At that moment it seemed a tremendous number, but he reminded me that there were a lot of passengers. That gave me an impression in the opposite direction and I said, “But these will not be sufficient for nearly 500 first-class passengers”.

“Yes, they will be more than sufficient in the hands of an experienced carver. You must remember it is not everyone who will want turkey We know by experience what percentage of passengers will eat turkey or roast beef. Taken as a whole one lot of passengers are just the same as another lot as far as likes and dislikes are concerned. If we put on steak and kidney pie with turkey quite a fair percentage will have the pie, but if we put on steak and kidney pie with boiled mutton the percentage for the pie will be very much greater. Therefore, we not only have to watch the likes and dislikes, but we also have to know the percentage for first and second favours. If we want to get rid of steak and kidney or anything else we put it on the menu with something which is not so popular”.

The chief steward took a cloth from one of the cooks and opened the door to show me the oil burner in the oven. It was simply a raging furnace. The heat was terrific and I had to stand back.

“Just at this spot a man stands for two hours at breakfast time and makes omelettes. The special pans are placed over that red hot part if they are going to be omelettes and not leather. You will pity that man working at this hot spot the next time you ask for an omelette”.

“I don’t eat omelettes”, I replied, “but my wife is very fond of them and has them almost every morning’.

”For that reason”, he said, “We only use 2,000 eggs each day and if every passenger asked for eggs the quantity would have to be considerably increased”.

Time was getting on and although I started on the inspection sharp at 7 o’clock when the dinner began I could see I was going to be late for my dinner at 8 if I stayed much longer.

We passed on quickly to the huge pots of vegetables, the grillers where both sides of the meat are grilled at once, the toasters which toast both sides of the bread at once at the rate of 1,200 pieces per hour, to the milk making machines, which turn out 120 gallons of milk, 15 gallons of cream and 28 gallons of ice cream each day, the ice cream machine, the machines for making all kinds of cakes, the machine which makes 5,000 bread rolls each day, the larger bread making machine which can turn out enough bread to keep a whole town going. Machines, machines, machines everywhere for everything. I saw a man carrying a large sack on his shoulder.

“What is he doing with that?” I asked.

“Come and see”.

We followed the lad and he dropped the bag on something which at first glance looked like a large copper. He had the bag ripped open in a second and I saw him pouring in one-third of a bag of potatoes into this thing like a copper. The lid was put on and a lever was pulled. Water was automatically spread on the potatoes and there was a churning noise inside. In a few seconds another lever was pulled and out came the peeled potatoes, washed, but not ready for use as they still had the eyes and holes left in them and this had to be done by hand. Notwithstanding the amount of work done by this machine it still took two men all day and every day to finish peeling the potatoes for the ship’s requirements.

“How does your wife like her eggs boiled?” asked the chief steward

“Four minutes” I replied.

“Just watch this”.

Hanging on the wall just above a long tray containing boiling water were a number of little receptacles large enough to take a couple of eggs. “We drop the eggs in here”, he said, “and set the gauge going. As we do not want to be here for four minutes I will set it for half a minute. Then lower the holder into the water. This sets the clockwork going. We can now go away for something else we might want or just watch”.

Immediately the half minute was up the holder with the two eggs shot out of the water and held them ready for the egg cup!

“It is all very wonderful” I told the chief steward, “but I have seen it in smooth water and I am wondering how these men get on when the boat is rolling”.

“We never miss a meal” he replied. “Of course, we have to put up guards so that the men are protected from the furnaces and we have to see that as much of the equipment as possible is properly fixed. I have seen this galley with ropes around it and men hanging on to the rope behind them with one hand while they carve a turkey with the other. Of course, there are many breakages at such times”.

We started to leave, but he took me into the silver room where all the silver and special crockery is kept. He showed me a special rack which he had designed and patented for holding silver when this boat was being built and he was superintending this part of it.

“And now would you like a cool drink before you get dressed for dinner?”

It was nearly 8.30, but I could not refuse that drink, and my word, it was good!

World Tour 1938
The Laundry “Orcades”

A couple of days later I paid a visit to the laundry. It is situated right at the stern of the boat.

World Tour 1938
The Laundry “Orcades”

It is simply marvellous the amount of work they can get through in a very small space. They average 50,000 pieces weekly. This is done by a staff of 11, 5 of whom are just boys. Of course, it is all done by machinery.

World Tour 1938
The Laundry “Orcades”

Even the water question is an important one as far as the washing is concerned. The Captain told me that the boat uses 20 tons of fresh water every day and sometimes very much more. He mentioned that a week ago we were using too much and they had to give instructions to the staff to watch the water supply for a while. I wondered whether the water I was using for the photos. was going to be stopped.

World Tour 1938
The Laundry “Orcades”

In the laundry they must use thousands of gallons each day. The table linen alone is a big item. We have a clean serviette and table cloth for each meal. We each use about four towels daily. The bed linen is completely changed twice a week. Altogether I am satisfied that the laundry plays a much bigger part in the life on board ship than is generally known.



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