Research or procrastination?

RMS Queen Mary February 1967

RMS Queen Mary February 1967

This is a photograph of me with my parents on the deck of the Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary in February 1967, taken by my sister.

If I look miserable, it’s because I was.

The crossing from Southampton to New York was rough and I was seasick.  It was cold and windy, and I hated my brown lace-up ‘sensible’ Clarks shoes.  I can see from the shadows we cast that it must have been sunny, but I don’t remember that.

I remember dark wood fittings, turkey sandwiches prescribed by the steward as a cure for seasickness and watching the water in the swimming pool, deep in the bowels of the ship, lurching from side to side as everything rolled on the swell of the sea.  I remember the red velvet ropes that were put up for us to hold onto because the crossing was so rough, and feeling conned when the film I was taken to see turned out to be ‘Khartoum’ not the cartoons I had anticipated.

My sister and I were co-opted by the cocktail bar steward into helping him set up, and I remember carrying a bowl of peanuts cupped between both hands to a table in the lounge, concentrating, determined not to be rolled by the ship into spilling any, and then running back to pick up another one.

There are other ‘memories’ which I think are more family stories that I have heard so often that they feel like mine too; like when the upright piano in the bar fell towards the pianist and he simply pushed it back to the wall and carried on playing, or the days my father was the only one in the dining room for breakfast.

I have been thinking about this journey recently because I would like to use it in some way in the new novel I’m planning.  But if I am going to use it, do I need to ‘remember’ more, make things up, or do some actual research?

I’m sure the answer is a little bit of all of them.  The trouble is I’ve been spending quite a lot of time researching and it’s beginning to feel a bit close to procrastination.

Talking to my family? That’s reasonable. Studying the menus and ‘Activities of the Day’ leaflets my mother has kept? Yep, reasonable too.  Arguing with things I find on the internet? That’s when I think, perhaps, I’ve gone a bit too far (even leaving aside the exquisite pointlessness of that as an activity).

If I am going to rely mainly on my memories and the evidence in the family documents this might dictate the way I use it in my story; I must allow for some haziness and blanks, and use a child’s eye view.  If I want a more omniscient narrator’s view I’m going to have to both find and make up more.

Meanwhile I’m enjoying reading the menus which feel as if they have more in common with the 1930s than to today.  Could they have been produced in my lifetime?  But there I am on the passenger list, so it must be true.

A glass of Liebfraumilch Blue Nun 1959 for 1/3 (that’s one shilling and 3 old pence, or 20 cents if you prefer to pay in US dollars), anyone?  It would go lovely with the suggested lunch menu for Friday February 10:

Pineapple Juice

Clam Chowder Manhattan  (or pickled Lambs’ tongues, if you prefer)

Poached Fresh Codling, Duglere

Loin Lamb Chop, Jardiniere

Spinach en Branche and Sautees Potatoes

American Apple Pie

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