She left Harland and Wolff a freezing week before Christmas in 1997. I'd watched her come in as the Star Princess on a desolate dawn from the foreshore of Belfast Lough. A freezing refit welded Arcadia to her nose and ran a P&O flag up her mast. I left with her as the fried and harried Shop Manager. It was a dreary grey day and I was alone on the top deck. Brother was on a train heading up the coast, he saw us go. The next Arcadia was fresh from the Fincantieri yard in Venice ten years on. When we pulled out this time I had a photography department to muster. There was a bit of a do for crew on the aft. Beer and Mr Boomtastic as the sister ship still on the blocks sounded her horns in farewell. Ship builders and fitters hung over the decks waving like streamers. Somewhere in between I'd encountered Nick Boyle.
The middle Arcadia had a decadent atrium balconied by bars, my shops, and Nick's Photo Gallery on the top deck. I went up to buy an album and we plonked our elbows on the curved wooden rail. Why don't you become a photographer and come and work for us, says Nick.
I altered course in a heartbeat without consulting a single chart. In two months I was at drills on Oriana in ill-cut navy trousers with an elastic waistband somewhere around my armpits. I couldn't find my cabin or my suitcase. I didn't know an f-stop from a bus-stop and couldn't remember how to tie a windsor knot.
Baptism of fire as a photographer I sailed with Nick for two months. An extraordinary teacher. He told me nothing and taught me everything. Need to know basis. Running to a shoot he'd grab my camera and metz and fiddle with buttons (30-5.6-one under on the flash, manual for heads, one notch under quarter power) "apple above the head bend your knees get the toes in you'll be fine". My first portrait shoot in Tiffanys we got there five minutes early and I learnt how to pose 75 couples in an hour. I remember it clearly. And ten years on I smiled when I caught my number three instructing the baby tog verbatim what Nick had taught me.
Nick and Jo Boyle are two of the most empowering people I have ever met. When you are in their company nothing seems unreasonable and no enterprise preposterous. Their energy is unstoppable. They left not long after our encounter, and Nick's company, Flare Imaging was at the very vanguard of contemporary web design. As ever, he led the charge and hasn't stopped.
That cruise, the life-changing one, we were in St Petersburg. I went off with a camera and decided that if I was going to do it, I had to do it. Russia is not an easy place and Russians are not easy people. The market had armed guards and bloody pigs heads grimaced on hooks. I skulked about then left. Found a shop that reluctantly sold me a brick of bread and foul cheese and sat on a pile of bricks where a house had fallen down and consumed what I could of it with half a hip flask of russian courage. Then I went back in. If I could photograph russians I could photograph anything. If I could make russians smile I might even be good at it.
The negs are old, I've over-flashed the veg. I started to 'shop the scan and then undid it all. Those teeth don't need any more work.
You'll find Nick Boyle in Berkshire, juggling the doubtless irrepressible Max with the indomitable Jo. You'll find Flare Imaging hereand Fine Art Imaging here. I wasn't thinking about Flare when I named my own company in fact the similarity only recently occurred to me - I suppose some things just hang around in your sub-conscious waiting to be useful.