I’ve had the chance of a good read of my copy of this new book, and now comes the time to feed back my thoughts. The first thing to say is that I really enjoyed it; it will have a prominent place among my maritime books. So what sort of book is it?
Well, let’s start by saying what it isn’t, and that’s a detailed history of The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Limited, which by the late 20th century encompassed a wide range of nautical activities including tankers, ferries, container operations, port operations, and of course passenger ships. Out of thirteen chapters, the very first covers the whole of the company’s first 100 years! – and there’s very little mention of anything other than the passenger ship aspect of the company’s story in the other chapters. This is not a criticism, by the way – this book is very much about P&O’s cruising activities. So chapter two takes us swiftly from 1939 to the full-time cruising era, which is pretty much defined as the moment that Canberra and Oriana were taken out of line service in the early 1970s. The remaining eleven chapters cover the story of P&O’s cruising activities from then onwards, with occasional diversions into familiar territory such as Canberra’s service during the Falklands war. There are a couple of chapters on the development of the cruising division between the early 1970s and now, there’s a description of each of the current (2012) ships, there’s a very interesting chapter about shore-side operations in Southampton, and there are specific chapters devoted to eating, entertainment, shore excursions, and “P&O-ness”. Each of these chapters is lavishly illustrated; almost every double-page has one or more pictures, and there are quite a few places where entire pages are illustrations. Some of these are full-page, but generally there are several pictures on a page.
The chapters are full of anecdotal accounts from both passengers and crew. Some of these go back a long way; there are numerous accounts of cruising (or crewing) on Canberra, and some mention of Victoria and the previous Oriana and Arcadia (iii) ships. The present Oriana gets a very good mention, placing her firmly in context as a bold step by the company to maintain its position as Canberra aged. Of course, the rest of the fleet get good mentions as well. And there are a few snippets of information that I sort-of knew but hadn’t grasped the significance of. For example, I knew that Aurora has balconies on three decks and Oriana only has them on one, and I was also aware of a slight difference in the vertical shapes of the two ships; but it was this book which (finally) pointed out to me that it’s the outward crease in Aurora’s superstructure above the promenade deck that makes room for those balconies. So simple, really.
I can imagine this book, possibly updated at regular intervals, enjoying steady sales on P&O’s ships, as a souvenir to those passengers who wanted to learn a little more about the line they were cruising with. As such it hits the spot very well indeed. The text is clear and informative, especially to those who don’t have much prior knowledge, and the illustrations are lavish and of a high quality. I especially liked Andrew’s pictures of Canberra at the end of her career (pp64/65), but all the pictures are of a high standard, and there are a lot of them.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and (especially) looking at the illustrations. Recommended.