It had been a long hard winter in Cornwall but finally the first hints of spring were appearing. The sun was breaking through the clouds for a few hours each day and there were no longer icicles hanging from trees past midday. A few brave green shoots were appearing and even the odd bud was beginning to open. Instead of rabbit tracks in the snow there was the sounds of birds singing again. Indeed, the season had turned.
As dusk began to fall one evening, an old tramp came trudging down a country lane, heading for nowhere and not in a hurry to get there. But as he paused to take breath, he heard a child scream from beyond the hedgerow. When he pushed through to see what had happened, he saw a tragic scene. A young child had broken through the thawing ice on a small lake and was floundering in the chilling waters,
Instinctively, he rushed across the field to the edge of the lake and then slid out onto the ice. He flung the end of his tattered scarf to the panicking child and called to her (for it was a little girl) to grab hold of it. She did and despite the ominous cracking sounds of the ice he was sprawled on, he managed to drag her out from the lake and carry her back to the lane.
As he pushed through the hedgerow, a Rolls Royce cruised to a halt and a distraught parent sprang out. Exhausted, the tramp was content to surrender the child to the father and simply watch as the car sped away. And eventually, he started his trudge down the lane again.
But, in about 45 minutes, the Rolls reappeared and stopped by his side. Out sprung the father and embraced him.
"You have saved my daughter", he said.
"What can I do to reward you?"
The tramp looked at the father and gave a sad gentle smile.
"Why, nothing", he said. "I'd just drink it away as I've done with everything else worthwhile I've ever had. I'm just glad your little girl is all right."
Well, the father wouldn't accept that so in the end, just to shut him up, the tramp agreed to take 200 quid and a lift to Dartmouth. So, he was chauffeured there & duly deposited outside a waterfront pub with 10 twenty quid notes in his pocket.
Well, the tramp was now in an unusual situation for him. He didn't need to walk any further, he had the price of several pints in his pocket and for once the terrible need to drink wasn't there. So he decided to wander up the street and look in the shop windows and see what the rest of the world was spending their money on.
Nothing took his eye until he came to a travel agency. And there, in the window, was a big poster advertising the inaugural cruise of the "Gargantuan of the Seas", the latest (& largest) megaliner to ply her trade on the oceans. And, wonder of wonders, the price was 59 quid for 7 days.
This stopped him in his tracks. He couldn't remember when he had had a holiday. The last twenty odd years were just a blur of country lanes, begging for small change and drinking when he had money and sweating out the withdrawal when he didn't. And here he was with 200 quid in his pocket. The moment was irresistible. He went into the shop and looked the salesgirl in the eye & said in a breathless rush "I want a cruise and I've got the money to pay for it!"
Well, the salesgirl was nonplused. She nearly called the manager but instead asked the tramp how come he had the money to pay for the cruise. And out came the whole story of the child and the lake and the 200 quid and the crazy nostalgic urge to have a holiday. Tears filled her eyes and she asked him to sit down while she worked out what she could do for him. And then she went to get the manager. Because there was a real problem – in fact two of them. His story had almost broken her heart – he was dirty, smelly and dressed in rags but he had been so heroic and all he wanted was a holiday to remind him of what might have been. And the poster was out of date and the inaugural offer had expired and she didn't know how to tell him that his naive fantasy could never be. So she laid it on the manager. And he too couldn't bear to shatter the dream the old tramp had.
So, the manager decided that he'd give him a freebie and wrote out a voucher for a free trip on the Gargantuan and told the tramp to get himself to Southhampton and give the voucher to the man at the gangplank. Incredibly stupid, when you think about it. How was the tramp going to get to Southhampton? By walking of course! And that took him quite some time.
In fact, by the time he got to Southhampton and found the docks, the Gargantuan had done 3 cruises and was preparing for its first round the world voyage. But he wasn't to know that. All he knew was that he had a voucher in his pocket promising him a holiday (and a surprising amount left of the 200 quid). So he trudged up the gangway and asked for his holiday!!
Well, the officer of the deck was stunned at his effrontery – what was this filthy person doing trying to board his beautiful ship?? But for some reason he refrained from having the bosun frog march him back to the dock and instead asked him to explain himself. So the whole story came out; the rescue, the 200 quid, the poster, the voucher and the long trek to get to the ship. Once more, the heroic innocence of the tramp stopped the officer in his tracks – how could he throw him off the ship? But equally impossible, how could he let him on board? After all, the cheapest cabin was selling at 57,000 and that didn't include booze, shore excursions etc etc. And as for his clothes...
But in the end, the officer couldn't bring himself to send him away. So, after a quiet word to the Cruise Director, they took the tramp to a tiny crew cabin on ZZ Deck and told him if he stayed there during daylight hours (so no one would see him) they'd arrange for meals & the odd drink & packet of fags & he could even walk the decks between 2 & 5 in the mornings to get some salt sea air. And so he came aboard.
Frankly, after the first 48 hours, he thought he had died & gone to alcoholic heaven. The word had quietly spread among the crew (though not amongst the officers for the one responsible for letting him board was having serious second thoughts) and he was being spoiled rotten. Clothes had appeared in his wardrobe, he had three meals delivered each day (with beer AND wine) and there was a shower across the corridor and for the first time in too many years he was clean, fed, and safe. AND getting a generous amount of free booze!!
Time passed completely unnoticed. He discovered the TV channels – the movies were rather old but were all new to him – and his body stopped aching as the need to keep moving vanished. He even started to read the odd book that was left for him. In other words, he was rejoining the human race. And of course, this is how the trouble started.