Sea Life. 1951. The Modasa. A Stroll in Marseilles.
By mid morning we tied up at our designated berth. Soon many of the passengers decided to stretch their legs and stroll up to the nearby city centre. Unlike many ports Marseilles docks were only a short stroll, maybe less than half a kilometre to the city centre.
During lunch one of the younger engineers suggested maybe we could go for a walk into the city during the afternoon. I joined them too, keen to put my feet on foreign soil for the first time. In fact I had not been out England 10 days ago, not even over the border into Scotland. The furthest I'd been in England was South Shields in one direction and down to near Nottingham in the other! Here I was in France, down on the warm Mediterranean coast. I wasn't going to miss this opportunity, we were sailing again tomorrow.
Four of us turned up at the appointed time. We walked through the open dockyard with its warehouses and soon we were at the open dock gates and into the main thoroughfare full of people. We strolled along the street window shopping and not much else. Just taking in the atmosphere of the French city, its architecture different and brighter than the dull buildings that we were used to in England.
One of our group decided to visit the toilet which he had spotted just along the street. I said I would visit too and I followed my friend. We went through the entrance and I was amazed, this was not like any mens toilet I had been in before. I must have looked horrified, my companion grinned, "never been in a French toilet before?", he asked. I shook my head.
The toilet was a long metal barrier on the in side of the wide pavement and covered us from chest to just below the knees, our faces faced the pedestrians going about their business a metre away. The urinal was a long metal trough at the appropriate height. The passing pedestrians took no notice of us as we stood there facing them, we were just a row of head and shoulders to them standing there doing what comes naturally. I managed to do what comes naturally, though I do admit my waterworks seized at first with the shock of it all.
In the late afternoon we returned to our ship and as we walked down the docks road, a tar-sealed strip over a piece of waste ground, a couple hand in hand approached us. Some 2 hundred metres before we reached them they stopped in the road, the young man said something to his girl and he then walked on to the waste ground for a distance whilst his girl waited by the road edge. To our surprise he began urinating, his back to us and the road. Not one of us said a word as he, on completion of the act walked back to his girl and they continued hand in hand towards and past us. To them, to all intent and purposes, a natural act.
This then was my first footfall on foreign soil, my introduction to France... 2 unusual acts of urination. They certainly did things differently in southern France.