God must have been rather busy that day because he was obviously in a bit of a rush when he created her. She is not one of His better efforts. Nothing is quite right. She has short little legs balancing an over sized rump and a plump body. Her eyes are narrow, her hair thin and her lips non existent. And He totally forgot to give her a brain. A fact that is made very obvious as she has verbal diarrhea and constipation of any real thought process.
But just as God was finishing for the day he took another look at what He had made and decided He hadn’t quite finished. It was then that He threw in a great sense of humour and the ability to laugh at herself. The last is extremely necessary and both are the reasons we enjoy her company. But even then God was not finished with her. He gave her a mother who wanted to call her daughter something slightly different from the norm. After some consideration she named her Agnes. Perhaps as a reference to Agnes of God. But we choose to call her “Agnes, Oh my God!”.
If only her mother had stopped there it wouldn’t have been quite so bad, but she didn’t. She wanted to throw in a little alliteration to make her daughter feel special, so she added “Arbuckle” as her middle name, proving that both God and her mother had a mean streak. No child could be expected to grow up into a well adjusted adult with those names attached to her, and Agnes Arbuckle was no exception.
Years later He was checking on his work and recognised that he had not been kind to Agnes. He decided to make amends by getting a man of some considerable wealth to marry her, treasure her, show her the world, and die young. This left Agnes widowed, still without a brain, but now with a considerable fortune, a taste for first class travel, five star Hotels, Michelin starred restaurants and large quantities of gin.
God was having a much better day when he created Margaret. He made her about the same height as Agnes, but there the comparison stops. Margaret is slim, attractive, well put together, determined, very, very smart, and just a little forbidding. But she too has a great sense of humour. She and her husband worked hard creating a textile company that prospered and required them to travel round the world. He too died before his time, leaving Margaret widowed but with a considerable fortune, a forty two foot yacht, the ability to sail it on her own, a taste for first class travel, good food and large quantities of gin.
In one of those happy incidents of fate, the two of them met a few years ago. Each recognised in the other a sense of loneliness, a desire to see the world and an enormous sense of fun. They promptly became great friends and now spend most of their time traveling the world in style, often on cruise ships but always with a bottle of gin.
We met them on last year’s cruise up the coast of Africa, and despite the fact that they came from Australia, we enjoyed their company a lot. And so we greeted their announcement that they would be joining us for the second part of this cruise with some considerable pleasure tinged with just a bit of apprehension.
Margaret is now in her seventies and while most women of her age and wealth would have visited a surgeon talented with a knife long ago, she has bravely gone without the advantages of nips, tucks and stretches. When she looks in the mirror she must wonder if that was the right decision as the passing of the years has not been particularly kind to her, but the deep lines and wrinkles give her character and tell of years in the sun on board a sailing ship.
Agnes is a few years younger and has not suffered the ravages of time quite so badly. She tries to improve her looks by buying expensive clothes, but they all seem to be embellished with studs, sequins, or embroidered butterflies or a combination of all three. Her hair, dyed light brown, is thin , straight and styled in a sort of pixie cut. She has dealt with it being so thin by having a wig made in exactly the same style and colour. The wig is a lot fuller and artfully accented with highlights of blond and darker brown giving it a rich, groomed look. However Nancy only wears it at dinner. So during the day her lank hair hangs thinly around her head, while at night it is transformed into something full, groomed and stylish. She finds this hysterically funny and pulls off the wig to show it to us on our very first evening together. We can’t help but like her.
Margaret is a little harder to like. She reminds me of my mother, which is not a good thing. She is very proper at all times and disapproving of any behaviour that doesn’t meet her rigid standards. She told me on our first meeting that she found men wearing flipflops extremely unattractive as men’s feet should never be seen. I of course was wearing flipflops at the time. I was too much of a gentleman to point out that her feet were on full display in strappy sandals and that her tiny little toenails painted bright red on the end of stubby little toes looked ridiculous. I have made a point of wearing flipflops ever since.
However, as you know, I am generous to a fault when it comes to overlooking peoples flaws, especially if they are Australians, and have grown quite fond of Margaret, mainly due to her great sense of humour and willingness to laugh at almost everything except herself.
The ship’s first stop is Salaverry, a port for the town of Trujillo. We have rented a car and the four of us set out to see Chan Chan, one of Peru’s great historic sites which is virtually ignored by the majority of tourists who look no further than Machu Picchu when visiting this country. Chan Chan, thought by many to be a risque Chinese dance club, was in fact the Capital City of the Chimú civilization and was founded in 850. By the 15th century it had become the largest city in South America and the largest Adobe City anywhere in the world. It is built entirely of sand mixed with shells and tiny stones, and placed in the middle of a bleak coastal desert that received less than an inch of rain a year. Despite its location it survived and thrived due entirely to the incredible engineering methods used by the Chimú to irrigate their crops, techniques unknown in Europe and North America until the late 19th century.
In 1470 the City fell to the Incas who wanted the skills of the Chimu but had little use for such a forbidding climate. They left the City to crumble and decay. It was rediscovered in the 1960’s and is now a Unesco Heritage Site slowly and lovingly being restored, although its future is threatened by the relentless rain of climate change.
It is a truly amazing sight
On our way back to the ship, we stop for gas and Nancy volunteers to pay with her debit card. The attendant speaks no English, takes her card, inserts it into a computer and asks Nancy to enter her pin number on the keyboard. It takes Nancy many minutes and several attempts to do so. For each number she has to start at 1 and then run her finger across the other nine numbers until she comes to the one she is looking for. She then makes a stab at it with her podgy little index finger, but frequently misses. In between gales of giggles she tells us that she has never been very good at numbers! It is all done with such good humour that the attendant becomes an instant admirer and wants his photo taken with us!