…. 7th April 1990….
MS Scandinavian Star a passenger and car ferry plying between Olso Norway and Fredrikshavn Denmark, experienced a heart wrenching maritime disaster orchestrated by way of a planned sabotage by a few of the vessel’s crew members.
This resulted in a fatalistic fire resulting in 159 deaths…
One of the root causes so many perished ( along with accusations of murder and sabotage) was the crew, a Heinz 57 combination of nationals speaking different languages ( although English should have been the common communicator ).. so when there was utter pandemonium on board or for that matter, in any disastrous situation land lubber based, or on the high seas, team work splintered into local shards of languages including four letter expletives and yes, crazy panic attacks, confusion, dog eat dog, not save our souls but save your own sorry assed selfish soul guv’nor…grab your life jacket ignore the helpless and get the hella outta here..!
In this particular tragedy the disaster took place in the most developed and advanced maritime waters of the world, not in some “far away third world shit hole of a land “when advanced nations would simply record this just as that and “ those poor illiterate undertrained buggers; lets hope they pull their rotten dirty stinking holed socks up” as life is cheap….. No-No Sir! this happened in the Nordic countries Ma’am; here the International Martime Organisation, the United Nations of Shipping takes serious fcuking heed Sir! Here everyone’s cajones ( balls) get in a sling shot and Directors earning six figure American Greens would be fired… axed… jailed… by even more hard core unscrupulous lawyers waiting to milk the udders of the shipping company’s owners…so no more sitting their bloated roast beef bottoms on golf carts with golf club memberships and Platinum Black American Express Cards with global concierge services … it’s the end of the gold run chaps… these big shots will now get on the bread line; their wives would have to cut down their Italian stilettos to flats and cheap rubber flip flops; no more beach holidays with the creme de la creme in San Tropez and oil reeking Sheiks on their platinum plated yachts. The creases on the ladies wrinkled faces will highlight the sorry plight as no Christian Dior makeup and super expensive French Parfum and manicures with gold dust any more… sorry.
…..The Year was 1996 whilst in Command of the Ro-Ro Vessel MV Cartagena carrying bananas, frozen shrimp from Colombia to Jacksonville and Port Everglades Florida, whilst back hauling Big Mack 10 axle trucks and trailers, my Boss Ian Pull an English gentleman around seven foot tall Vice-President Operations at the Shipping Company based in San Jose ( SJO) Costa Rica called me..the harbinger of good news … “ Cap’n Vivek I want you in the office at SJO to develop the International Safety Management ( ISM) code for the shipping fleet and the office. We need to get certified, a global requirement to conform with and ensure our ships never experience an adverse situation like the MS Scandinavian Star; we need to complete this exercise by 01 July 2002…
My sailing days were coming to an end after 31 years on the high seas…
Costa Rica or the Rich Coast is a glittering fabuloso emerald country between Panama and Nicaragua. With the Caribbean lapping it’s beaches in the north and Mar Pacifico in the south known for high wave surfing and Blue Marlins, it is probably the first country to have got rid of its armed forces on 01 December 1948. What I loved about mi “ pueblo lindo” ( my beautiful village) as what the local Costa Ricans call their beautiful country was the exploding fauna, rivers, volcanoes, beaches, bird life, alligators, sloths, parakeets, snakes, scorpions, gigantic spiders, dangerous luminous red frogs, iguanas, turtles, flamingos… and the salsa* and merengue night clubs… Everyone just loved to bailar ( dance )..the coolest dancers were the local truck mechanics with their squeezes!.. so I too joined the local swinging dance school “Merecumbe” and saw beautiful bodies lunging at each other with such fabulous sensual and sexy moves to the tunes of Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Ricanõ and local Heredia bands…music entered my blood stream and this Latin groove was the only other genre I permitted to merge with my holy genre Hard Rock..I can pull a move but nothing like those mecanicos…! The locals are nicknamed costarricenses in their native country … with the ladies caller “ticas” a few even being crowned Miss Universe and men, “ticos “…
…every weekend I was in the midst of these “wonderful locals” enjoying the flavour passion and gyrations of music, peace and love, Paz y Amor and “Pura Vida Mahe”..Pure Life Dude!!
During my four glorious heavenly years I lived in a gorgeous villa in the outskirts of the Capital San Jose situated at 1200 meters. The small quaint place called Ciudad Colon and in the condominium Colonial del Prado.. the owners were a young Dutch couple retired Doctors ( I mean do young Doctors retire ?) who moved down from Holland to live in peace, harmony and play tennis…their’s was a fabulous property with teak floors, massive windows that overlooked on to a beautiful lush garden abound with trees… mangoes, grapefruit, lemons, tangerines, custard apple, tamarind and of course banana… every species of flowers and one permanent “guest” at the end of the garden.
For many weeks I looked at that “log” but could have sworn it somewhat moved, slow and lethargic; a wee bit here and a wee bit there but generally in the same place….One day I asked the gardener Enrique perhaps that log needed to be dumped elsewhere as it was not really settling to the beautiful landscape…… it was then he smiled at me and casually dropped the biggest bombshell… !“ El Capi… no es un tronco de madera .. es una culebra un Boa Constrictor ..!” 🙄 I pissed my pants but he assured me the bugger had been there for years and would never venture out of his space. Horse Manure… ! I had to insist they remove the lodger / guest by gently coaxing it into a massive wooden carton and leave it far far away from me….in the rain forests…🙏
After three years at Colonial del Prado ( where I befriended a wonderful Dutch Lady Majorie who was 102 and loved her G&Ts, another superb Canadian couple Sussane & Gillces Ladouceur, I decided to move closer to the city **( remaining in constant touch with my Colonia friends). Thus, I came to know of an exquisite four bedroom flat for possible rent, owned by the aristocratic Señora Dama Majorie Elliot Sypher de Oduber, the ex. First Lady of Costa Rica. She was a tough old dame over the telephone, refusing to rent out just to “anybody“ but my stubborn persuasion and insistence to at least let me drop in to see her, worked. Wearing my absolute best, packing a sumptuous box of chocolate and pineapple pastries, a pack of pure Darjeeling Lopchu Tea, I arrived at her residence in Escazu….on the dot at 1600 hrs. Along with the eats, tea and my italian sensual cologne, I charmed her with my finest first impressions and style, pure Cottonian ingredients..reciting loads about BCS, Simla and India…Dama Marjorie finally relented …The rest is history! I enjoyed that fabulous place! The residence had priceless oils that she purchased over the years whilst travelling on official visits and sojourns with her late husband El Presidente de Costa Rica Señor Daniel Oduber, alrededor del mundo…
Well, well there is no Shangri-La, not even in Costa Rica…
My first few weeks in the office starting March 1996 felt as though I was still Skipper on my ship.. as a new vertigo seemed to keep me off balance; the only saving grace amongst the boring lot were the Beautiful Ticas; the Office Secretary and other girls in the office… “ Hola Capitan que pasa” as they rushed and held me tight; genuinely hugging me with great concern ..real sweet close against them to support me from crumbling on to the ground.. Jeez they were divine ..! But still I felt strange… U N T I L one afternoon the entire office was jolted with a massive earthquake that lasted an agonising twenty seconds … Yes my vertigo was due to light tremors… Costa Rica experiences an average of TEN tremors (temblors) EVERY DAY that’s 3600 a year …😲😲… my body settled down, I started walking straight except when some very heavy ones hit ..
….. I still shudder… remembering one beautiful morning at The Colonia, after spending forty five minutes with my Tennis trainer Sr.Alonso in the courts and now having breakfast in the midst of fresh mountain air, tucans, hummingbirds and red squirrels…it started with a strange guttural notice in the distance as though a heavy duty truck was struggling up the hill, groaning against its weight with the muffler holed … the noise turned into a crescendo and felt like a barrage of heavy steel girders slamming and then grinding against each other … the heightening sound then entered the earth’s belly and headed in my direction like a long angry roar … like a battle tank and a massive steel-iron monster cutting through rock, again moaning…. and then roaring-a-million lions it passed right under my house like a huge way in a rapid yet painstakingly “ slow “ five seconds that felt like an eternal nightmare…I was thrown of my chair and fell hard to the ground, my muesli spilt, my burnt toast skidded away and my coffee mug rolled too leaving a river of black gold. The entire house shook and shuddered, window panes shattered, the rafters shivered uncontrollably and severe cracks appeared in the walls as the wooden bannister leading to the first floor splintered with one section breaking with a snap from its foundations and shooting off in a carved trajectory like an imbecile missile slam bang puncturing the wall..!! reeling in shock with my heart blasting into my skull, I contracted into a ball preparing for the roof to come crashing down; preparing for the worst..
…and then pin drop silence before the stray dogs started howling, the horses in the fields across neighed and went beserk. This powerful wave measured 6.4 on the Richter scale having it’s epicentre in the next village Puriscal barely 12 km distant.
I survived this and all …! Some Great Power protected my arse.
… and so in 1997 successfully along with great cooperation from the Fleet of Ship Captains, Chief Engineers and their crew, I obtained the necessary ISM certification for the fleet and the office five years ahead of the deadline.
Whilst the company was celebrating success by being the first Fresh Produce Shipping Company in the world to comply with the ISM code, my Boss was carving out other plans for me, on his corporate chess board..
Yes, towards the end of 1999 he told me to pack my bags, my memories, my exploits and head to England…. the company wanted to open an office in the UK. Although I was the junior most I was the dude for the new assignment ..”Vivek is a self starter.. he gets the bloody job done..”
November 1999 saw me landing at Heathrow having left exotic Costa Rica, a country that I can never ever forget, I stepped out into England …rain-wind-rain and more rain whiplashed the pavement and drenched me to the bone with ice cold drops dripping inside my shirt sending a shiver along my entire body..
But the “old country” was special and sentimental for me … it felt like returning home and every day I felt more enthused with new challenges as Managing Director based in Chertsey, Surrey just of the M25 London orbital and 23 minutes by fast train to London Waterloo. The company was building two unique Container vessels in Germany and my offices had virtual control of these vessels, the largest of their type in the world!
London was my kinda place too. Great Food, Cool Rock Bands, Trendy Clothes from Carnaby Street, Saville Row and shoes from Loakes and Paul Smith… and yes, plenty of Rain and Fog, beautiful green lush grass, loads of golf courses and connecting with the Old Cottonian network!
Amongst the Cottonian network especially Peter Stringer Esq; , Allan Gay Niblett Esq; and John Whitmarsh Knight Esq; whose late uncle was Senior Master at BCS, these fine gentlemen were my closest, my benefactors and more; we met often. John Whitmarsh was my neighbour and we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company everyday. I immediately dived in to the wonderful world of the OCA ( UK) and in some years took over Chairmanship. The Seniors at that time were mostly British along with a few diehard Indians; each and every OC extended warmth and very strong feelings for the brotherhood not to mention their fiercest memories of BCS. Get togethers were often hosted by the genuine diehard OC Vinod Nanda and his wife Rosie at his place for meetings, these followed by leisurely khaana as Pete Stringer Sahib and the seniors always wished for an Indian meal at Southall.
England felt great! It was like a groovy second homecoming having studied for my Master’s Foreign Going, the Sea Captain’s Licence for unlimited tonnage in world wide trading back in 1979-1980. I spent those years up at Southshields, Bristol, London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, . besides studying …often visiting the trendy discotheque “ Tuxedo Junction “!
But I was back with a mission in November 1999; to make a success of the new company entrusted to me…
December 31, 1999 23:59:00..the millennium hour struck as we all waited in Trafalgar Square for a global blackout at Y2K…torches in hand …perhaps a volley of nukes released with no control to annihilate the world, the end of planet earth, or more mildly though catastrophic, ships stopping at sea engine dead and rudderless as the clocks struck 00.00.00 and the year 2000 slowly moved in leaving the last century behind, destroying everything living…no one knew what would happen..
Nothing abnormal nor extraordinary happened! The world remained sane, safe, secure and with us billions slid in to the 21st Century.
It was one September morning five years later in the year 2005, having just rented a lovely spacious flat on Queen’s Road, Weybridge my second rental in five years, all spruced up and getting ready to go to work, looking out of the window on to the garden I saw a diminutive little figure moving about with a pair of clippers pruning the rose bushes…
There were four flats in the building of which one on the first floor was owned by Bruce Campbell a Director of Southend Airport, on the ground floor and the adjoining maisonette lived two ladies whose names were yet unknown. I had my place entirely to myself on the topmost. I could crank up Plant screaming ..nobody’s fault but mine..” and live my life loud and free.
I had yet to present myself to them but proper etiquette demanded I first write a short note introducing myself. as “ your new friendly neighbour”. Which I did with a carefully hand written piece, brief with no great detail. Just as a “your new friendly neighbour, a Sea Captain who is delighted to be in your midst, in residence” neatly folded, gently tucked into a neutral blue envelope, silently dropped through each letter box.
Returning home one evening as I entered the driveway of the house I saw the little figure again. She was a petite little lady in a Red Mink coat stepping out of her entrance just as I parked.. smartly stepping out of my car..“ Good Evening Ma’am” I started as she curtly responded “ Good Evening” and slowly walked towards a Red Volvo Estate. Matching Mink matching Car! Getting in she slammed the door, fired up the engine and without a seconds hesitation accelerated and shot out of the driveway on to heavy cross traffic; horns blaring and brakes screeching all stopped except Ma’am who made a hard right and zoomed off towards Walton -on-Thames! Phew ! What a zooming wonderful introduction..
The next few times I saw the Lady I always stopped to wish her; she sometimes acknowledged and at other times just ignored me as I turned towards my door feeling her sharp eyes studying me from behind.
Early mornings as I stepped out for a morning brisker, a five kilometre walk around Oatlands Village, I always saw outside the lady’s door, four bottles of milk with blue caps. Each was half a litre and I wondered if there were others living with her as late in the evening I always saw four empty bottles outside her door again. And yes, another four full bottles left at her door by the battery powered milk float early in the morning.
It was only when I met Bruce my neighbour did he enlighten me that the “ four foot and a fag paper tall lady is Miss Marie Bonnaud. She’s tough as nails, keep your distance .. a safe distance Mate.. she is temperamental, keeps to her self and tinkers around in our garden. Drinks loads of milk, lives alone, has no family, drives like a maniac, the last lad who lived in yours escaped to Thailand without bag’n’baggage as she came after him with a Witches broom; she just turned 100 and was quite chuffed HRH THE QUEEN sent her a Birthday Card all with the Royal Seal and much regalia ..” and that was that.
Wow! I was neighbour to a centenarian living in our midst! So how old was the other lady I enquired … “ Oh she’s much younger at a sprightly 93” Bruce replied..! “…one Mrs Joy Adams who ran a Beauty Parlour on Baker Street; she’s the more friendly one and always offers a cuppa to the gardener when he arrives on Friday along with thin sliced mint cucumber sandwiches; more humane I’d say ole chap vis-a-vis you know who…Miss Bonneaud”. That did it for me. Respectful Distance, Greetings both Ante Meridiem and Post Meridiem and no more with that lady…
Until it all changed,
Until I was floored..
It was in November the same year whilst I was in Port Everglades Fl. USA carrying out a safety audit on board a company vessel that my mobile tinkled… answering “ Good Morning, Vivek..”……. “ is that Captain Bhasin” in a harsh lady’s voice.
Working hard to recognise the voice I just couldn’t… “ I am Marie Bonnaud speaking..”…. my neighbour in England, calling me for the first time … I perked up
“ Yes Ma’am, quite a surprise to get a call from you..”….
“ yes it must be, I think you are not in England as your ring tone sounded strange..”…..
“ yes Ma’am, I’m in the USA” but now the worry vibe started surging in me ..” is everything alright?” I asked.
There was a moment’s silence and then “Captain Bhasin, I was at the front of the flat looking out of the window and saw an automobile crane drive in with three men in surgeon coats. They backed in the crane and were hooking it to your car…. I felt something was not right so I ventured out and asked one of them what was going on; he said you were sending your car for repairs.. told him this sounds not right and they should wait right there, so they are waiting but fidgeting…”….. I was taken aback… “ Miss Bonnaud, my car needs no repairs, so who they be?”….. “ probably car thieves in disguise; I will tell them to stop if not I will call the police..!” Hanging up!
That was Miss Marie Bonnaud! Super Smart, Alert, Brisk and Snappy… ! She saved my car getting nicked..!
Back in Weybridge I was returning from the office, entering the drive way when I saw Miss Bonnaud outside her door surrounded by a man and a woman; it appeared a heated interchange with flaying and flapping arms, the lot.
I quickly parked, jumped out and approached the “heat”…….”Captain Bhasin, please tell the Lady and Gentleman I am completely sound of mine, have all my ducks in a row and have been driving for the last 50 years since I got in to England ….”.
As much as I tried to convince the two on Miss Bonnaud’s professional driving skills ( not to mention the signage on the main road which these two from the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency – DVLA must have read “ Motorists Beware-Elderly Lady in Red Volvo living adjacent could be dangerous to others “)….they were there asking her to gently surrender her Driving License.. if not they would take it away, regardless.
That was when Miss Marie Bonnaud ended her driving days and her love affair with her Red Volvo…. (and the signage outside on the main road was removed.)
I helped Miss Bonnaud as often as I could with her shopping and other errands; our relationship remained extremely formal until one evening as I drove in to the drive way… I saw her standing at her door beckoning me…
Parked I smartly jumped out of the car and approached her…
“ Good Evening Miss Bonnaud”….
“ Good Evening Captain Bhasin…..” and then she started …
“ Where are you from Captain? You don’t look English, but you’re a good looking man…”…..
“ Thank You Ma’am ..India Ma’am”…. I said…it felt good!
“ Are you from Simla?” She asked and I stepped back in surprise …” Yes Ma’am… Simla..” and she butted in …. “ Bishop Cotton School ?”… surprised startled suspicious, I mean had she been spying on me? Come up to my flat during my absence, but how could she? Or Could she ?
… “ Yes Ma’am from Bishop Cotton… how did you know?” I whispered ….
she slowly responded …” I just knew… you see I studied in Tara Hall…”!!
I was completely taken aback ….
“ Ma’am…..?” I questioned …..
“ I knew” she said… “ You Boys from Bishop Cotton were smart, very smart and a lot more. It was your mannerisms, your etiquette that gave me a very strong impression … you must be from BCS …. You boys stood out everywhere…… Good Night” and she entered her flat and closed the door behind her…
I just stood there…
I just stood there….
I looked up at the dusk and saw the planet Venus on the Western end..
….( that was Miss Marie Bonnaud****)
*My salsa and merengue is rusty today as I last moved in Madrid one crazy night in September 2018 with a fabulous pilgrim…
**actually an iguana died in the loft of the villa at Colonia Del Prado and a bunch of skunks arrived… the awful stench killed my love for the place sadly and I moved out …☹️☹️but moved into that fabulous flat owned by Dame Marjorie Oduber, First Lady of Costa Rica.
*** Dame Marjorie Oduber passed away in 2015
**** Miss Marie Bonnaud was born in Simla, studied in Tara Hall, worked with Shaw Wallace Shipping Agents in Calcutta, played Golf at Fort William Calcutta … came to England when she was 50 and stayed out at her flat in Weybridge.
She tripped, fell in her flat , was admitted to hospital and later moved into an old age home … she really missed her flat but could never come home again. She passed away in 2009 aged 104, never married.
27th May 2020