18 May 2005

Sea life. 1951. The Modasa. First Night and Dinner.

First draft:
That evening I went down to dinner, my steward had suggested about 7.00 p.m. would be a good time. I felt conspicuous putting on my uniform with its new braid. I had had my uniform for probably a year or so buying it when I was at South Shields College but I didn't wear it very often. I ventured down below and soon found the dining room, or at least my nose led me the way. It was quite spacious having to cater for seating of up-wards of 200 passengers and the ships officers. I stood hesitantly at the doorway and in a few moments a steward, who seemed to be the nautical equivalent of a maitre-d' bustled up and quickly showed me to a place on a long table with a sprinkling of other officers. Most said "good evening" or similar and the carried on with their conversations. I looked at the menu wondering what to order when a plate of soup popped over my shoulder. That finished I sat back; my eye during the soup had kept going to a large steaming tureen of, contained as far as I could see, a thick greeny-yellow liquid with hardboiled egg halves floating sunny side up on the surface. Whilst still sipping my soup, another officer bustled in and sat down greeting everyone, and me with a "hello Sparks". A waiting steward rushed over to him and handed him a plate. Reaching over he took a large spoon and from a tureen then took 3 big spoonfuls of steaming rice, then from the big steaming tureen, a ladle-full of the thick liquid and 2 egg halves. Smacking his lips he tackled his plate with gusto.

Sitting back after my soup a number of other small tureens appeared on the table containing vegetables meats and gravy. I took a proffered warm plate from a steward and helped myself to some familiar food and I then tucked in, I was feeling famished. Meanwhile another officer came into the dining room and he too tackled the big tureen after helping himself to a plateful of rice.

As you have probably guessed by now the big tureen contained curry of which I was completely unaware of at the time. In Kendal, a town of at least 30,000 in population in the 1950s, the nearest thing to foreign food was a lone Chinese restaurant where the only dish known to the locals, brave enough to try some, was prawns on rice in gravy. And not many Kendal people had had that either.

Later in my adult life I would have asked what the big tureen contained, but that first evening on the S.S. Modasa, I was still a shy boy of 17, in an unfamiliar environment and not looking my age didn't help matters.

When I did learn all about curry, it was some time before I plucked up enough courage to try some after hearing the horror stories of its hotness. When I did try some, I became an almost instant devotee of curry.

Since that day, long ago I have sometimes wondered what type of curry it was that first night. The only place I ever saw curry with hard-boiled egg halves floating on top was as a regular dish on the Modasa.

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