Captains Past and Present

July 1, 2008 -

John Heald

Childhood memories are usually dominated by cloudless summer days, scraped knees from falling of your bike and burning ants alive using a magnifying glass and the sun. Mine are also dominated by the mornings when I’d come downstairs to find my school report had arrived.

Throughout the term I’d assured my parents that I’d been working hard, and that the small explosion in the Chemistry Lab had nothing to do with me. But there, in the report, was solid, irrefutable proof that I hadn’t been working hard at all.

Even today, 30 years later, I can recite, verbatim, the comments from a Math teacher Mr. Sonnen. “Usually I would write Could Do Better but unfortunately Mr and Mrs. Heald…I do not think that this will be possible.

I can recall, too, the way my parents looked as they thumbed through page after page of abuse and home truths. And also the look of utter bewilderment when the Physical Education teacher Mr. Strickland said I’d been a “quiet” member of the set. This might have had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t been to a single one of his lessons………….instead playing Space Invaders at the local fish and chip shop.

My father would point out calmly that I’d let the school down, the family down and that I’d let myself down……………remember he was a school master himself which made things even worse………. My mother would handle things differently……….. and make me a chocolate sponge cake but I knew even as she added extra chocolate and frosting that she was disappointed……………. And I’d sit there, unable to conceive of a more horrible experience.………….and eat the cake.

But I bet ………………………….. it’s even worse to be the parent.

In the early years of a child’s schooling reports are fairly meaningless. You learn that your pride and joy has made a lovely paper model of a dog without cutting his fingers off with the scissors and his part of the back end of Rudolph in the Christmas play was an Oscar worthy performance.

But then as they get older I am sure things change. For 12 years you’ve known, with no question or shadow of doubt, that your child is the greatest, most brilliant and most popular human being in the whole of human history. His paper models were magnificent and his acting abilities De Niro like.
You have had visions of him, on stage, thanking his agent and God. But then, suddenly, along comes a report that says that, actually, he’s a bit thick.

Teachers, of course, are very good at softening the blow. They use words such as “pleasing” and “encouraging”, no matter how many members of staff he has stabbed with a pencil. “Johnny is becoming very adept with his knife. Perhaps he would do well if he were to think about a career in a slaughterhouse.”

My headmaster was brilliant at this. In my final report he said: “We like John very much. When he is sent to prison, we hope it is not too far away so that we can come to visit him from time to time.”

The trouble is that no matter how hard they try to mask the truth, you can’t ignore it, in the same way that you’d find it hard to ignore a elephant with diarrhea…………. in your car. Everyone is always nice about your kids. They have been since they were in a stroller.

But criticism; that’s a whole new area. That leaps off the page and hits you straight in the heart. “Tracy needs to concentrate more,” is no different from saying “Tracey has a face like a bulldog ….It hurts.

Imagine if your boss wrote a report on how you were doing at work . . . and then sent it to your children. “John has made pleasing progress in blogging and hosting shows this year and we’re encouraged with his efforts to stop looking up the dancers skirts. But he must try to avoid belching over the PA system or he won’t be getting a promotion any time soon.”

My wife came out of the bedroom the other night and asked what I thought of her new outfit. I was honest. I gave her a proper report and said it made her look frumpy. And was she pleased? Was she hell. The cabin windows frosted over on the inside.

It’s not the done thing to present others with an honest appraisal of their performance. I know I’m useless on the tennis court but I don’t like my partner to say so. And yet that’s exactly what a school report does.

I can, however, end with a crumb of comfort for those of you whose children received poor reports. Bill Gates never got good reports and neither did Richard Branson or Sean Connery……………….I bet most people who are successful in life ever had a good one.

Well, I had also better start thinking about our Bloggers cruise next year which will be here before we know it. The plan so far is this:

1. John and Heidi arrive in New Orleans in the early morning of the 6th of February
2. The afternoon is spent with blogging friends helping to make a difference by assisting in the continuing rebuilding project
3. That night all the bloggers will go for dinner together (I am paying) and hopefully a show in one of the convention rooms.

The strangest thing is that there is so much red tape involved to allow us to actually do some hands on work however we will cut through it I am sure.

As for the cruise itself, well I have some huge plans and as always I will start letting you know more and more as we get ever closer…………are you joining us.?

On a serious and sad note.

I kindly ask that today you pause for thought and remember Robert and Suzann Schneider whose father passed away yesterday. Robert and Suzann have sailed with me 40 times and are regular readers of the blog and known to many of you. Their Father also cruised with us and he like his dear wife were huge Carnival fans. Mr. Schneider also served his country in the army through many campaigns ……………….Robert and Suzann……we are all thinking of you and send you our deepest sympathies.

So, this morning we began our slow journey around the Italian coast passing the towns of Camogli, Santa Margherita, Portofino, Vermazza, Portovenere and finally onto Lerdichi. Many of the small towns we passed are the home towns of the retired Captains and Chief Engineers who are sailing with us. I was on the bridge with them this morning and was hit by a huge wave of nostalgia. There was Captain Gavino who had been the Master of the Fantasy and Sensation in 1990 and 1993. The Sensation was the first ship I had the privilege of bringing from the shipyard and Captain Gavino was there to see me through that experience. He stood with me once again on the bridge and we chatted about the old days. I could see the glint in his eye as he surveyed all the sparkling new equipment that can be found on the bridge of today’s new vessels…………………I could also see a little sadness in his eyes and maybe he realised that now the command of the ship was someone else’s………….as I watched him I saw a man probably saying goodbye to a place that he had stood for many many years……………….and a place that without a doubt he missed terribly.

Then there is Captain Sartori who I once gave a Cuban cigar to back in 1994. He smoked it the following night and told me it was the best he had ever had. My reward was to be called to his cabin the following day whereupon he gave me stick made of poo to smoke…………….This pooey stick was actually a cigar called a Toscano and whereas the cigar I had given him had been rolled on the silky thigh of a Cuban goddess the Toscano had been rolled on big and hairy thigh of a woman from Tuscany.

Anyway, just the smell had me worried but when the Captain said ” come, sit, we smoke together” what followed was 45 minutes of sheer will power not to vomit in Captain Sartori’s hat……………………it was disgusting.

Still, today as we shook hands I not only remembered that story but I also was reminded of the total and utter respect that I had for him as a Captain to keep us safe.

Captain Gavino used to always invite me to sit with the passengers (as you were called back then) at his dinner table on formal nights. When I did I was assured of good conversation and the same joke which he always told just before the cherries jubilee arrived.

I should explain that the people from Genoa are allegedly not very free and easy with money……….in fact they are considered tight buggers like the Scots.

Anyway, Captain Gavino would tell the same joke every time and Chief Engineer Falcone, Chief Purser Francine and myself all had to pretend as though it was the first time we had ever heard it……………the joke went something like this.

There is a man from Genoa who is enjoying a morning skiing when suddenly a huge avalanche buries him under tons of snow. he is lying there, freezing and gasping for air. Just as he is about to give up all chance of being rescued he hears a digging sound from above him. As the digging noise gets close he manages to find a last breath and says “ who is that digging up there “………..a voice whispers back “its us from the Red Cross”

The man from Genoa manages a few last words “I already gave“


Today, I watched as Captain Pagano navigates the ship through a flotilla of small boats to anchor off the coast of his beautiful home town. There he was, master of our new ship surrounded by friends and family all there to congratulate his success and wish a wonderful bon voyage to the Carnival Splendor……………..but as I watched Captain Pagano shake hands and accept plaques and all the glory I saw a certain sadness in his eyes………….this was wonderful but I knew he wished more than anything…………..that his Father could have been there to see him………to stand with him on the bridge of the newest ship in the world and say “ son………I am proud of you.

I am sure he is.

Here are some photos from today’s journey:

Home of Captain Pagano – Lerici

Boat selling ice cream and sodas

From left to right – Captain Gavino…….Captain Pagano and Captain Sartori

Your Friends
John and Heidi.

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.