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Berger’s Burg: Columnist points pinky to sky, takes to sea

Gloria and I just completed a long weekend of babysitting for our two grandchildren, 7 and 2, and we were bushed. “I sure can use a vacation,” I murmured to myself. The gods must have listened because when we returned home Gloria told me to sit down. I gulped hard because the last time she told me to sit down, she informed me that I was to become a father again.

“Hubby,” she whispered in a British accent. I interrupted her and asked, “Why the British accent?”

“Because we are going on a week’s vacation aboard the ‘Queen.’ ”

“You can’t fool me,” I said, “I know Her Majesty can’t swim,” I jocularly answered.

“No, silly, I mean the Queen of the Seas, the QE 2.”

“Whoa,” I answered. “Everyone knows I am a suave, urbane, courtly, unctuous and extremely couth individual, but I don’t know crumpets about proper British etiquette. Where should my pinky point when I hold a steaming cup of tea at High Tea? Besides, the last time I wore a tux for dinner was at our wedding.

“Don’t be such a bloody fusspot. They will not throw you overboard if you wear your nice dark suit at dinner,” said my wannabe British wife.

“They may not throw me overboard, but you can bet your last sixpence they will throw me down the hole where King George’s books on British etiquette are stored.”

“If you don’t go, I will call Jon and Alicia and tell them that we are available to babysit again this weekend.”

“Don’t forget to pack my Beatles album, dear.”

That was the last thing I uttered before Gloria swung open the closets, pulled out five huge suitcases, filled them with nine-tenths of our clothing, plopped two toothbrushes into the carry-on to even the load, and, helter-skelter, we were on our way to board the venerable QE2.

The taxi driver taking us to Kennedy Airport suffered a near triple hernia trying to cram our luggage into every available air bubble in his cab. Then he almost suffered a nervous breakdown driving through traffic. He said, “If the Lord wanted you to fly, he would have made it easier driving to JFK.” When we finally approached the airport, he pointed to a sign that read “terminal.”

“Pray,” he said.

Gloria booked a no-frill airline to London to save money. Before takeoff, the flight attendant instructed us to fasten our Velcro! We noticed that the plane had only two bathrooms and three chapels (certainly a bad omen). I was seated between Gloria and an obnoxious 6-foot-5 Texan. I was happy when we finally landed.

Much to our surprise, Heathrow Airport resembled a United Nations luau at high noon. There were hundreds of busy travelers wearing turbans, burkas, robes, ceremonial gowns and other various pieces of clothing, and speaking a multitude of foreign languages. But they all stopped to admire my white jeans.

It was raining very heavily when we arrived at the dock one hour before sailing. The captain looked at our luggage and said, “You should have told me. I would have brought a larger ship.”

It was then that Gloria realized that we had forgotten to pack my cholesterol pills. The ship doctor was unavailable, so with only a few minutes before departure, we jumped into a taxi and sped to a pharmacy in town. The pharmacist advised that he needed a prescription, so he called my doctor in Bayside; however, my doctor was not registered in the UK, so the prescription could not be obtained.

The cabdriver then drove us to a second pharmacist who suggested we visit the doctor around the corner. We did, secured a prescription, hurried back to the pharmacist for the pills and burned rubber racing back to the ship. We made it with a full five minutes before sailing. (Incidentally, health services are free in England. We paid nothing for the doctor’s services nor the expensive pills.) Once snuggled on board and in our cabin, we finally exhaled.

The QE2 crew was very accommodating, especially our stewardess. I loved the way she folded the edge of our toilet tissue into a “V” shape every morning. In fact, I loved the design so much that I continued folding it that way. On the fourth day, a tray of stewed prunes and bran was left on my bed.

We sat at an eight-person dinner table with a lovely Minneapolis couple who had eight sons; a funny, 81-year-old Florida dancing instructor and his French girlfriend; and a twinkle-eyed music professor and wife from Scotland. I loved their Scottish accents so I kept engaging them in conversation. They were never the wiser.

At other meals, we sat with Eloise and Annabelle, two lovely seafarers from Indiana. They were energetic, fun-loving and they literally were libraries in high heels. We also met Paul and Kim, travel agents from New Jersey. I loved tapping their brains for other vacation ideas.

Gloria and I looked forward to “Captain’s Night” and a lobster dinner; however, the day before the dinner a severe storm rocked the ship with 50-foot waves. Gloria and I became seasick and were confined to our cabin for two days. We were so ill, we were afraid to yawn. To pass the time during our misery, we watched repeat showings of “The Titanic.” Yes, we missed the lobster dinner.

The nightly entertainment was quite good. The singer John Davidson performed. Before starting his act, he proudly announced that his former biology teacher, the doctor who delivered him and his former gardener were coincidentally aboard ship. He asked the teacher and doctor to rise, and he hugged them. Then Davidson asked me to rise and announced that I was his long-lost gardener. I then realized it was all part of his act.

The following day, a group songfest was held before dinner. The master of ceremonies passed out songbooks and I shouted out a request. Once again, I was dragged up on stage to sing it solo. I am a columnist, not a singer, but I was socko if I say so myself. Gloria told me that when readers get tired of my columns, I have another career waiting in the wings.

My last story is about the 30-year-old passenger who won $565,000 on the progressive slot machine. But I feel sorry for him; he now has to hire an attorney, a financial advisor and a statistician to convert the dollars into British pounds when he next cruises on the QE2.

Upon returning home, I lugged the loaded five suitcases back into the house. “Uh, oh,” I said to Gloria, “Let’s make an appointment with my British doctor. I think the heavy luggage just gave me a triple hernia.”

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300

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