Jenny Darling

Travel Talk

For several reasons – not the least of which is that the lady who runs this web site is a good sport – this month's Now and Then is different from my usual offering.  Though it reads like fiction, I give you my word it is all true, though names have been changed for obvious reasons.  And I have "tweaked" the conclusion because real life leaves loose ends.  I hope you enjoy the tale of

Jenny Darling

Though barely out of her teens, Jenny Darling had danced on board "Athos" for over a year.

Her main job was to tap and high kick her way through twice-nightly routines in the Show Lounge, but as is often the case on small cruise ships, her daytime duties were varied.

Depending on the hour, she was either "that pretty little girl who runs the exercise class", "that sweet little girl who checks out the library books" or "that nice little girl who helps with the bingo".

That was Jenny's problem.  The passengers – her audience, her public – thought of her as a "little girl" and, worse, a "pretty", "sweet" or "nice" one.  When your ambition is to be a top-flight dancer on the West End or Broadway stage – the tough top end of the show business ladder – that's not the image you want.

Technically you couldn't fault her stage work and her long legs and shapely figure were undeniable assets.  "A lot of talent, perfectly packaged" is how Tim Thompson, the cruise director, put it when we sat watching a rehearsal in the Show Lounge one afternoon.

The six girls were polishing up a routine for that evening's performance – "Caribbean Calypso", or some such title – and I had remarked on young Jenny's looks and ability.

"There's no doubt she has talent," said Tim, whose judgement was based on a career as an entertainer himself, as well as many years at sea.  "But her problem is that she still moves like she was at Mrs. Flora Ponsonby's Dancing Academy.   She's got no 'oomph', if you know what I mean."

I knew.  "If you've got it, flaunt it", is an old show business maxim, but Jenny wasn't a flaunter and Tim knew that would hold her back.  The West End and Broadway would never be at her twinkling feet unless she learned how to show herself off to better advantage.

What made the situation odd was that Jenny was no shrinking violet and was actually engaged in an affair with Captain Kyprianos.

They had been involved in what Tim delicately called "a close personal relationship" for many months, in spite of the fact that Jenny knew the Captain was married, and that shipboard affairs usually end in tears.

Most of us on "Athos" accepted the situation.  Tim's sole concern was that Jenny might end up squandering her talent.

I left the ship at the end of the cruise, with no intention of returning, but several weeks later was asked to step into the breach when one of the regular lecturers fell ill.  I re-arranged a couple of commitments and flew to Naples where the ship had called on the third or fourth day of her voyage.  I was looking forward to seeing Tim and other friends, though Jenny Darling hadn't crossed my mind as being one of them.

Within half an hour of stowing my gear and seeking out Tim, I learned of a worrying complication.  The Captain's wife, along with her mother, were on board, taking advantage of the complimentary cruise granted each year by the shipping company to the families of their senior staff.

Their presence meant, obviously, that the "close personal relationship" between Jenny and the Captain had to be suspended, and all who knew of it were required to keep that knowledge from the Captain's lady and her mother.

They were a formidable pair.  Mum was squat and shapeless and looked not unlike a well-lagged boiler as she waddled about the decks.  She had a ferocious profile and this had been inherited by her daughter, along with the extraneous facial hair.  Without in any way condoning it, one could understand why Captain Kyprianos had dallied dangerously with a dancer.

Jenny was taking the situation badly.  Belinda, one of the other dancers, told Tim she spent most of her free time in their cabin, either crying or ferociously vowing vengeance on the man who had done her wrong.

I thought this was unfair, but long ago gave up trying to fathom the logic of female reasoning.  All I knew was that it would be terribly difficult to keep the secret for the duration of the cruise.

The worst time was when the Captain, accompanied by his wife and mother-in-law, entered the Show Lounge for each evening's second performance.  A low table, with three chairs, had been reserved for them at the front of the audience so they could enjoy "Caribbean Calypso", "Way Out West", "Hollywood Highlights", or whatever musical montage was on offer – as well as the magician, the ventriloquist and other star turns.

The passengers – almost 100% British – loved every minute of it.  However, I sensed that the Captain did not, especially when Jenny and the girls took centre stage.

One afternoon a morose Jenny appeared in the corner of the Forward Lounge where we had gathered for coffee and a gossip.  She plonked herself down beside Tim, filled a spare cup from the pot, and started talking about quitting the ship when her contract ended.

Something drastic was called for.  I decided to speak my mind.

"You're giving in too easily,"  I said.  "I don't know the rights and wrongs of the situation, and, frankly, I don't want to.  But having seen Kyprianos' wife, I can't help feeling sorry for the poor blighter, because whatever happens he's stuck with her for the rest of his life.
"As for you, Jenny, I think it's time you showed him you're moving on from this situation.  I also think it's time you showed him just what he's losing."

Tim caught my eye and grinned.  He knew what I was getting at.  "Yes Jenny", he added.  "You've got it, so get out there and flaunt it."

And that is precisely what happened that evening and every evening for the rest of the cruise.  Jenny was a sensation.  No more the "sweet little girl" from Mrs Flora Ponsonby's Dancing Academy, but a confident young woman aware of her talent and her sensuality.

She turned and twisted, kicked and dipped, swayed and shimmied in the finest display of "flaunting" it has ever been my pleasure to see.  I cannot swear to it, but I think I saw steam coming from the Captain's collar.  I certainly saw the grim look that came over Mrs. Kyprianos' face.  And the meaningful glances she exchanged with her mother.  Poor man.  Life would never be the same again.

As for the newly transformed Jenny, she gave up the shipboard life and hoofed her way around provincial theatres and on tours in Europe and  the Middle East.  And though her name was never up in lights, she did make it to the West End.

I know this because, about two years later, I spotted her in the chorus of a Shaftesbury Avenue musical.   considered leaving a message at the stage door but, remembering poor Captain Kyprianos, I decided it was probably best not to.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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