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By PAUL MOTTER
Cunard Line launched the beautiful Queen Victoria liner three weeks ago with an inspiring naming ceremony featuring Camilla, Duchess of Windsor. The two hour event was picture perfect but for one technical malfunction - the magnum bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne did not break when slung against the hull of the ship.
Camilla is the royal who volunteered to preside over naming the ship, and her "job" was to say the short blessing "I name this ship Queen Victoria, may God bless all who sail upon her" and then press the button supposedly meant to trigger the lever set to swing the bottle against the hull.
When she pressed the button the lever didn't move. We watched her press it again and again (yes, I was there). Personally, I doubt the button was even connected to anything. My guess is that a stage manager watching the ceremony cued a backstage hand to "swing the bottle" when he saw Camilla press the button.
After a few seconds of button pushing, the bottle swung, bouncing against the hull of the ship and finally settling down - unbroken and still hanging from the rope. The crowd was silent until someone hiding on the deck above the bottle smashed a backup bottle against the railing. We couldn't see this person - we only heard the sound of smashing glass and saw the river of champagne flow down the ship.
We applauded enthusiastically. The fact that the bottle didn't break on cue didn't affect the mood of anyone who was actually there. It was a momentary pause as we waited for the champagne to flow, which it did in due time. There was no gasp or even a whisper in the audience about the bottle not breaking. It was suspended time.
Yet today, as I check for cruise news online, I see listings for nearly 100 news stories citing "The Curse of Camilla" regarding an outbreak of intestinal flu aboard this ship as it sails through Europe on its second cruise.
For those Americans who don't know, the British press invented tabloid journalism. It often comes as a surprise to we Americans who picture them as looking down their noses at us "Yanks," but the truth is many average Brits have a mentality we would best describe as "redneck," and nothing tickles their funny bones as much as exploiting anyone with a public profile. Especially a royal, and especially Camilla. Even though it isn't deserved or even logical.
Norovirus Outbreak At the heart of this is news that "some 80 people" came down with an intestinal bug on Queen Victoria last week. The actual number is 78, and that is about 4% of the entire passenger load of 2000 people (not to mention 1000 crewmembers). On top of that, the number of ill people has now subsided to about 24. Meanwhile, 4 million people in the U.K. also came down wirth the same bug, so the percentage of ill on land is about the same as it is on the ship.
Does any of this matter to the British press? No. They are screaming headlines about "The Curse of Camilla" as if she is the Typhoid Mary who brought the virus on the ship. I have news for them, I went to the movies in my neighborhood yesterday and half of the audience was coughing and wiping their noses. People get sick every winter. 25% of my household is currently down with the flu.
But they don't stop with "the curse." They even describe the bug as "potentially fatal" as if people are being carried out in coffins. The health conditions are "deplorable" and of course there is talk of the inevitable "compensation" to the rest of the passengers who had to witness the reported "deplorable conditions" on this "cruise from hell."
Once again, I remind you that only passenger ships are required by law to report outbreaks of sicknesses. The truth is, there is probably more norovirus on your city block than there is on that ship, but how would you know?
In ancient times the launch of a new ship was celebrated with human sacrifice. Human blood was used to grease the skids of the timber chutes used to slide new ships into the sea. Eventually, that was replaced with red wine, because it was more humane but still the right color. With time that changed to breaking a bottle of wine to christen a ship, and eventually the custom became champagne because it is more festive.
As far as the British press is concerned, apparently because it's Camilla, sacrifing her reputation for a few sensationalistic giggles is a delightful way to christen a new ship. So, the Brits are not nearly as classy as we "Yanks" tend to give them credit for being.
For the record, the only non-British Empire news organizations I saw repeating the "Curse of Camilla" headlines were the tabloid-driven New York Daily news and Fox news, the bastion of "fair and balanced (?)" reporting. Also for the record, the Titanic was not christened with a bottle of champagne, so stories that its bottle also failed to break are not true.
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