Monday, July 6, 2009

Reflections #1: Excuse me? I have to do what?

When I signed up to work on a ship, I pictured myself traveling the world, having fabulous meals, walking the decks late at night gazing at the stars. I never imagined myself in a cramped room, late at night, ink up to my elbows, in tears trying to get a printing press working while plotting its demise.

On our ship we in the purser’s office were responsible for producing all the ship’s printed material - the daily program, tent cards, cocktail invitations, menus and the like. The laying out part of it was kind of fun and you could even get a bit creative using an IBM Compositor and later an Apple Mac. Nice, clean user-friendly machines…

But no matter how much everyone enjoyed that part, they knew what lay ahead: the AB Dick printing press. There were rumours that one of our ships - the QE2 - had real printers who did this at union rates. Not us, though. We all had to take our turn on it once every four months. The most immaculately groomed of us could, within a matter of one shift, have deep black ink embedded under nails that could only be gotten rid of by growing them out. Despite smocks that we wore securely over our uniforms, the ink defied all odds, sometimes getting right through to our bras.

The machine was used constantly and as such had a tendency to break down, a lot. At sea with no technicians available, we were at the mercy of finding an engineer who could help us out yet again. The program had to go out every night without fail even if it took until midnight. You therefore had cabin stewards anxiously popping in and out looking for them as they in turn couldn’t finish for the night until there was a program under every cabin door.

When the press actually did work, it was kind of soothing to stand back and listen to the rhythmic “ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk,” as each sheet ran through. Still, you couldn't allow yourself to become too complacent as massive jams and breakdowns were only one sheet away, lying in wait.

I’ve no idea how daily programs are produced these days or by whom. I imagine the job is far easier now. But I can never look at one without remembering what we had to go through to produce them back in the day.

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