Sunday, July 31

Wonder

Les Gale was a local institution. He’d been headmaster of the C of E Junior School since Jesus was a boy. Everybody loved him and everybody made fun of him. We kids thought his head was shaped like a map of Australia turned on its side. He even had Tasmania hanging off the back.

Les was a good headmaster, and he was determined that his school would be one of the best around. He would run all sorts of events to raise money and managed to get us some of the best facilities in the district, including our own swimming pool. He also organised the cruise every year.

This was back in the seventies, and P&O used to run educational cruises on two ships, the Uganda and the Nevasa. You may remember the Uganda was later used as a hospital ship during the Falklands war. These two ships, which had otherwise reached the end of their useful lives, were converted for carrying groups of schoolchildren during the late sixties. They could carry about 900 at a time on two week cruises which, for many kids of my generation, was our first opportunity to go abroad.

My parents were, well, dirt poor wouldn’t be to strong a word for it. But they were determined that us three boys were going to have the same opportunities in life as everyone else. So as each of our turns came up, they scrimped and saved the money and sent us on the cruise. My eldest brother went on the Uganda to Corruna, Lisbon and Tangiers. My middle brother went on the Nevasa around the Scandinavian countries. But both of those cruises started in Southampton. When it came to my turn it was different.

We were going on the Uganda, travelling around the Mediterranean. We were meeting the ship in Naples. And that meant flying. Which meant more money. I remember to this day. £88 it cost. Sounds daft now, but remember this was 1974, £88 was a heck of a lot of money for a car mechanic and a school dinner lady to stump up. But they managed it, and at the end of February that year, I was on the plane.

It became known as the "falling down buildings" cruise. That’s what we called it. We were making four stops. First in Naples we were going to see Pompeii. Then to Athens, where we would see the Parthenon. Over to the island of Santorini, more ruins. Finally to Izmir in turkey, and the ruins of Ephasus. A fantastic trip for a ten year-old, but really by the end of it we were overloaded on falling down buildings.

Ephasus was going to be the highlight of the trip. They kept telling us this. At Ephasus we were going to see the Temple of Artemis, and that was one of the "Seven Wonders of the World".

We were all quite excited by this. We weren’t totally sure what a "Wonder of the World" was, or why there were seven of them, but the very fact of the word "Wonder" in the title made it clear that it was going to be something a bit special. You didn’t call things "Wonders" for no reason. It would have been different if they’d said it was one of the "Seven Ho-Hum’s of the World", but they didn’t, they said it was a "Wonder".

So first we went round Pompeii. It was pretty cool. I remember entering through that big amphitheatre where Pink Floyd played their concert in that film. I’d love to go back today because, having minored in Greek & Roman Civilization at uni, I would probably appreciate it more. I would understand the layout, and the purpose of the various areas of the town. But as a ten year-old I remember mainly being impressed when they showed us one building and told us it was an ice-cream factory. Pre-historic Ice-Cream, wow! But still, it was nothing compared to a "Seven Wonder of the World".

Athens was cool. We docked at Pireaus, and were taken in a bus into the city where they dropped us off at the foot of the Acropolis, and we walked up through the Propylaea, (not that I knew what it was called back then), and saw the Parthenon. It was big. And I seem to remember a big open space in front of it where a group of us boys tried to have a game of football with a rock. And I was impressed by the half naked ladies holding up the portico on the Erechtheion (again, know the name now, didn’t then!). All very impressive. But still, no "Seven Wonder of the World".

Santorini is a big exploded volcano which has left a ring of islands where the rim once was. The boat dropped anchor in the middle and we were ferried in smaller boats to the harbour. Then there was this huge set of steps you had to go up. Most people did it on mules which you could hire. But not for us kids. Les Gale’s wife had a mule. The rest of us walked. By the time we reached the top we were knackered and didn’t pay much attention to more rocks and fallen down buildings. We were looking forward to our "Seven Wonder of the World" too much.

And so to Ephasus. We ran the gamut of souvenir sellers to get inside. Then we were led round on a guided tour. We would see many great houses and temples we were told. Yeah yeah, what about the "Seven Wonder of the World". And we would see the house that Mary lived in after Jesus died. Hmm, quite impressive, but we wanted our "Seven Wonder of the World." And then we would see the Temple of Artemis. And just as we had been promised, the tour guide told us, this was one of the "Seven Wonders of the World." Yay!

So we saw the great houses and temples. They were fine. Big buildings, a bit grey, mostly falling down. And we saw Mary’s house. It was pretty small. But I guess she was a woman on her own, she didn't need much.

But then came the big moment. Just along this path, we were going to the Temple of Artemis. A "Seven Wonder of the World". The excitement was palpable.

I remember it clearly to this day. We walked along a dirt path, above an incline. At the bottom was this big field. Scattered around the field was a lot of broken rock. In the middle was one white pillar, maybe ten feet high. "It was destroyed during a battle around one thousand seven hundred years ago" we were told.

I never trusted an adult again.

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