The Cilicia

There follow some confessions of a white man. (Notice the lower case.) He wasn’t born yesterday, as I now remember. It is as if I once lived on another planet: Earth, it was called. It was different from the planet I live on today.

Under lockdown from our current commie masters (who call themselves “Progressive Conservative” in Ontario), I trawl the Internet sometimes. Last night I found some stray items on the motor vessel, Cilicia. She was built in the Fairfield works at Govan on the Clyde, in 1937. Converted to an armed troop carrier through the War, she reverted to the Anchor Line, soon after; and was refitted for commercial service on the India run. For another score of years she sailed, with passengers and some cargo — Liverpool, Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Aden, Karachi, and Bombay, then back again; unvaryingly. In her old age she became a training ship at Rotterdam, under the name Jan Backx. In 1980 she was scrapped at Bilbao. For her final run, she was named the Cilicia again.

We (my family) boarded her at Karachi, for our return home from my childhood in Pakistan. Our home was not actually in England, and so there was a further voyage on a Cunard liner, across the Atlantic. How I remember when the scent of conifers reached my nostrils, in the Strait of Belle Isle. For once upon a time, there was a Canada. Later it receded, towards another galaxy.

My father had been a teacher in the College of Art, at Lahore; an institution founded by Rudyard Kipling’s father. He was a white man. My mama was white, too, with blazing red hair. So was I, for biological reasons; and my little sister, although she was blonde. Adored by his (all-male) students, papa stands out in old photographs, tall; a white man ever surrounded by brown men, all wearing white shirts; papa looking professorial and yet young, so young.

The other white man in the college was Principal Sponenberg (an American, but British Imperialist at heart). In the one photo of him I still have, he is rubbing it in with a cigar, in what looks like a Hawaiian shirt.

I can only hope that any BLM members among my gentle readers have averted their eyes.

The ship was very large, for a small person. It was my first experience of being truly at sea. I remember the docks of Karachi, fading away. Crossing the Indian Ocean, there was a gaggle, or choir, of little pasty-fleshed Anglo-Indian girls, dressed in sailor costumes. They were on deck, singing a song whose refrain was, “And when I grow up I want to be a sailor.” (Forget it, you’re a girl, I thought.) They were nevertheless enchanting, to my eyes; although, sixty years later, I still can’t get that infernal jingle out of my head.

Aden was still a British Protectorate then, and not yet a socialist hellhole. Egypt was full of trinket salesmen, who forced their way aboard. I slept through Malta. Gibraltar was a tremendous uplift to the spirit. The Bay of Biscay was designed to make one seasick. From Liverpool, we would take a train to London, which in its immensity was very heaven. On the upper deck of a London bus, I told my mother that, “This is my city.” But I was prognostic in only a minor way.

We had gone out to Pakistan in aeroplanes. My father knew ships — real passenger ships, for getting you somewhere — wouldn’t be around much longer. This wasn’t the last ride, but the end was near. There will be no ships to Mars. But once there were ships to India.