In case you’re wondering, ferret isn’t a derogatory term but rather his nickname from when he worked at the Evening Tribune in Nuneaton, due to his ferreting out a story. Yes, sadly on the 21st February 2011 many of us gathered at the Heart of England Crematorium in Nuneaton to say goodbye to another of its favourite sons. Yesterday, as I waited for my National Express out of there to London, I saw the name of Larry Grayson on the back of a bus. I hope they don’t do likewise for Steve! But back to the funeral. It was a gloomy old day, cold and raining, as if the town was crying like the rest of us. The time was set for 12.45pm. I had travelled up the day before, booking two nights at the Travelodge/Harvester which was about a mile from the crematorium. A day return on the train was a ridiculous £139 and by the time I’d get back to Southampton, it would be a taxi home which made it too much. This at least wasn’t as expensive and turned out to be less stressful without worrying about delays and missed connections on the day. I had a bit of trouble trying to find a black top to wear which wasn’t summery or had a cruise ship on the front. It had been easier finding suitable clothes for my mum’s funeral since it was December in minus temperatures with snow on the ground. In the end the only thing half-decent had Celebrity Cruises in black thread but no one saw it under my coat! I had planned to ask at reception for directions to the crematorium and walk but the weather was so awful I phoned the taxi company I’d used when I’d arrived. It is a beautiful crematorium. A new one, opening in 1995 with a garden of remembrance. I’d visited Golders Green in 2001 and it reminded me of this in its peacefulness, though not expanse. As I waited, I took a couple of photos on the phone from under shelter.
A few people turned up, checking the order of service on the wall. They too were here for Steve so we all went into the warm waiting room as others arrived. Many of these were friends he’d known since school and worked on the Trib with. One funny story, also told by his brother Phil during the service, was about how Steve would illegally listen into police radio then be straight on the scene, claiming he’d had an inside tip off. The police got wind of this so set him up, issuing a fake call over the radio knowing Ferret would turn up! Anyone who has had experience of Steve’s antenna working overtime when there was a potential story could fully understand why he earned his nickname. I would often tweet something perfectly normal and the next thing I’d get a message and/or phone call wanting more information! The recent auction of Pacific in Genoa was one of those times. Steve hadn’t heard about it so after I filled him in, he set about finding out all he could which he did, right down to it being cancelled and something was going to be settled in court. A time I REALLY missed him was the 12th when Oriana was late then when she was finally singling up, developed a technical problem. Steve would have been straight there before I caught breath demanding to know what was happening! The friend who told this story was reminded by another about walkie talkies he and Steve had back in the 1970s, lamenting they had a crap range and cost about £70. More people turned up, including Dave Monk from Metro, who had last seen Steve on Disney Dream last month. We got chatting as gradually more arrived outside so we and others joined them. Just before time, the hearse pulled around the corner. Steve’s timing was perfect this time – damn him! The car containing his mother Joan, brother Phil and other family followed. While most of us fell silent as our friend drew closer for his final journey, a few people were still yakking. It was really annoying and disrespectful. One by one we followed the coffin and family into the chapel to the sound of Sailing, which brought a smile to the face. I don’t know how many chairs are inside but they filled pretty quickly, leaving everyone else to stand at the back. The vicar was a pleasant chap, not too preachy, and he acknowledged all of Steve’s friends who were local and those who had travelled to be there. We had A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, one of Steve’s favourites, and which wasn’t on the order of service. His brother Phil gave a prepared eulogy but was so devasted he was probably glad to get through it. They share the same birthday, something Steve was said to have remarked about them both being conceived during the 2 week holiday in Wales. Phil will have a very hard one on the 5th and my heart goes out to him. The time for reflection was My Way then after the curtains were drawn around the coffin, the vicar read out the poem, Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep. And to Robbie Williams singing Beyond the Sea, we all shuffled out after saying a final goodbye to our dear friend.
Steve’s mother and brother were at the end of the path. When I reached Joan, I passed on my dad’s condolences as he’d requested. He only met Steve once last February when MSC Magnifica arrived but instantly liked him. He had that effect on people. Joan was very touched people had come so far to be there as she tried to fight the tears. I gave her a hug. My aunt had gone through similar a few years ago, losing her first born, though that was to stomach cancer, and I’d seen how badly it affected her so I felt deeply for Joan. Dave knew so many of the travel people through his job while Claire Riches and a girl originally from New Zealand called Casey Mead (thanks, Dave!) from NCL joined us. We had a brief chat with John Honeywell (Captain Greybeard) and Sue Bryant before they had to dash off and we went to the wake at Ambleside Sports Club. Not an easy place to find and after asking directions, it turned out to be slap bang in the middle of a street of nice houses! Really the last place you’d expect a sports club. With so many mourners, it was pretty packed and, despite the bar, only one barman was working. Dave bought a round (not G&Ts!) and we toasted our absent friend. By 3pm most had left to catch trains leaving only Steve’s Nuneaton friends and family plus little me. I decided to go back to the hotel so said goodbye to Joan and phoned my dad as I waited for my taxi. I had been sad before going to the funeral but had my spirits lifted being there, like they had whenever I spoke to Steve after my mum died.
It’s funny. I had been so stressed about many things before going to Nuneaton but after passing the Lyndhurst turn on the bus on the 20th, calm washed over me and I felt at ease by the time I got into town to begin my journey to the Midlands. Coming back, on the very same stretch of road, the sun broke through the clouds and disappeared after arriving in Hythe. I don’t know whether there is such a thing as a sign or if it was an amazing coincidence but it made me smile at the end of a very long couple of days. Life won’t ever be the same without our favourite Ferret. It seems unthinkable there are so many ships to sail on and report about but he won’t be part of it any more with his video as he welcomes us to his Cruise Diary. Journalists, like ships, come and go and there is always a small number who are unique and special among the rest. Steve is one of those, like his beloved Saga Ruby.
Au revoir, Steve. One day we’ll all meet again on a ship somewhere. If you bump into my mum, tell her about your shippy adventures. She always loved hearing about mine so will lap it up! I’ll always love and miss you, treasuring our friendship for the rest of my life. xxx