Cruise Journal, Part II

Statue of Marilyn Monroe, Haugesund, Norway


Stick with the Brits for a moment — you’ll like this. Paul Johnson and John O’Sullivan speak about Margaret Thatcher. Both knew her well. Johnson starts by saying that Thatcher prided herself on her hair: and a fine head of hair it was. It served her well.

When they were at Oxford, he asked her to go punting with him. She said no, it would mess up her hair.

One night, something really unexpected happens: I drop by the ship’s showroom, to catch the comedian. And he is brilliant — flat-out brilliant. I could not have predicted that.

He is Jonathan Clark, and he does impressions — impressions of singers. He does them with deadly, and hilarious, accuracy. He sings well himself — just straight. He does impressions of non-singers, too. He does comedy of many and various types.

And, again, he is brilliant. I’ve seen a fair number of comedy acts in my life — never one better. Including Rodney.

Good as Clark is — great as he is — he can’t be the funniest man onboard, because our Rob Long is here. Let me give you a little taste of Rob.

I speak of a restaurant, and say it’s “what we used to call an ‘Oriental restaurant,’ before ‘Oriental’ became verboten, for some bizarre reason.” Right, says Rob: “Now it’s ‘pan-Asian.’ In other words, Hirohito’s dream has come true.”

That’s Rob: funny, yes, but also deeply informed.

During a panel discussion, I ask him what shaped his views. He says, for one thing, that he read Modern Times (one of Paul Johnson’s best-known, best-loved works).

Same goes for me, by the way. Same goes for a great many.

Geoff and Janet Matthes are longtime friends and cruisers. This cruise is a special one, because, for the first time, they have brought their daughters — four perfect Nebraska girls, with plenty of blonde hair between them. Their ages range from something like 11 to something like 18.

The eldest says, “When we travel together, we’re a spectacle.” If so, a magnificent spectacle.

Above, I said that we had two renowned British historians aboard. Well, have another: Robert Conquest.

I learn something: Bob celebrated his 19th birthday in Morocco. When he was returning home the next day, the Spanish Civil War broke out. He has seen a lot of history, lived a lot of it — analyzed and written about it, incomparably.

Richard Pipes titled his autobiography “Vixi,” i.e., “I Have Lived.” So has Bob, to put it mildly.

Another of our guests is Daniel Mahoney, the political scientist from Assumption College — superb. He says that one of our problems today is that people don’t understand “the tragedy of civilization.” Just how fragile civilization is, and what it takes to defend it, and perpetuate it.

It would be unreasonable to expect people to have the sense of a Conquest or a Mahoney. But they could do better . . .

In the course of our final session, Dan Mahoney and the great Michael Novak talk about pornography — at my instigation. They explain the destructive effects of pornography, on individuals, families, and society. It is all very moving. As I’ve said before in this journal — I wish I had a transcript.

James Pethokoukis, the economics writer, whiz, and guru? He is a former Jeopardy champion. Very easy to believe.

Onstage, the captain of the ship hangs a medal around the neck of our publisher, Jack Fowler. Jack has logged a lot of miles at sea; the medal is in recognition of that fact.

Won’t you join him, and us, sometime? And if you have already — come again? Thanks much, y’all, and see you soon.