Sinking the Unsinkable, Chapter 5

The story so far: The accommodation shortage is reaching crisis point aboard the RMS Torytanic despite a series of new initiatives by assistant purser Mr Shipps. Several icebergs have been spotted.

Ship’s journal of Captain D.W.D Cameron, Esq, Friday January 13: Some of the more superstitious passengers insisted on dining in their cabins this evening. I simply cannot understand their attitude when they are aboard a ship as well-appointed and unsinkable as the RMS Torytanic.

Wednesday January 22: The assistant purser Mr Shipps has been to see me about his New Berths Bonus. I swear if he tells me one more time about it being a ‘powerful new incentive’ I shall have him locked in the brig. The idea is to reward parts of the ship that agree to squeeze in some new berths with a tidy sum to spend on more. At least that’s the theory. In practice they’ve been spending it on anything but: roast dinners, extra rations of rum, gambling, you name it. Mr Shipps tells me not to worry, that’s it all part of the ‘accommodation revolution’ I promised the passengers last year. ‘But when, Mr Shipps, when?’ I asked him before he hurriedly changed the subject.

Monday January 23: More problems in first class. It’s not just that tiresome fellow who styles himself Lord Best this time either. I was surrounded by men in dog collars complaining about our plans to cap the necessaries of the passengers in steerage to persuade the ne’er-do-wells to do some work for a change. I’ve told the chief steward, Mr Duncan Smith, and the drinks steward Freud that this really will not do.

Tuesday January 24: Sent my officers around the ship last night to explain our plans for a cap. The passengers in second and third class seem especially taken with the argument that the oiks in steerage are getting more rations than them. Hilarious to see Mr Miliband and Mr Byrne, our guests from the rival liner RMS Labour, trying to be simultaneously in favour of the cap and against its effects. I really do feel we are beginning to win the argument now.

Tuesday January 31: Good news and bad news from first class. The good news is that I’ve finally found a way to eject that odious ‘Sir’ Fred Goodwin from his palatial cabin. Just before we sailed it emerged that his bank had gone spectacularly bust but that hasn’t stopped him swanning around the deck drinking champagne and smoking expensive cigars. Turns out he is really plain Mr Fred. Let’s see how he likes it in second class!

The bad news is that I’ve had another deputation from the first-class passengers complaining about our work plans for those in steerage. I really am getting rather cheesed off with this. ‘Mr Duncan Smith is determined that they learn the lesson that work pays,’ I told them. For all the good it did me.

Thursday February 2: A brilliant wheeze from my chief engineer, Mr Osborne. ‘So what if they don’t like it in first class, captain,’ he told me. ‘We simply tell them it’s us who’s paying for all this and if you don’t like it, you can lump it.’ I thought about this for a few minutes. ‘But isn’t this a bit like telling them it’s our ball and we’re taking it home?’ I asked him. ‘That’s it precisely, captain,’ he told me.. He really is a clever chap.

Friday February 10: Most distressing. The ship’s surgeon, Dr Lansley, was found in his cabin this morning cradling an empty bottle of medicinal rum. I knew the poor man had been under pressure after all the criticism of his plan to reorganise the surgery and dispensary but I really hadn’t realised it had come to this. I explained the situation at my morning meeting with senior officers this morning and called for three cheers as a sign of support for the poor doctor. Several of First Officer Clegg’s lot simply sat on their hands and pointedly looked away. More worryingly, some longstanding members of my own crew looked less than enthusiastic. I may need to have a chat with Dr Lansley soon.

Monday February 13: My chief navigator, the ridiculous Mr Cable, is getting ideas above his station again. He was in my cabin this morning raving about the unusual number of icebergs that are appearing off our starboard bow. He is still dining out on the fact that he was the first to predict that RMS Labour would founder and sink. I tell him that fortunately for him – and all of us – the naval architects who designed RMS Torytanic have ensured that there is no way we can suffer the same fate.

Originally published in 24Housing magazine

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