I've ferried them all from Macca to Maggie; Paddy Shennan meets a man with a fantastic job - and a fantastic view from his 'office'.Byline: Paddy Shennan
THOSE of you who slave away in windowless offices ... prepare to feel very envious. Meet ferry captain Robbie Quinn, a man who has the most fantastic outlook on life.
"I don't think there's anything I'd change about my job," says Robbie, 53, as he looks towards Liverpool's world-famous waterfront. "This must be the best view out of any 'office' window in the city.
"I never get sick of it - how could I? It really is such a big selling point selling point
An aspect of a product or service that is stressed in advertising or marketing.
Noun 1. selling point - a characteristic of something that is up for sale that makes it attractive to potential customers for Liverpool. I feel so lucky to be able to look at our waterfront every day of my working life."
And that has been a lot of days. Robbie, who was born, bred and still lives in Wallasey, explains: "I've been a ferry captain for just over four years, but have worked here for 35 years. I was a first officer for almost 25 years and a deck hand deck hand
A member of a ship's crew who performs manual labor.
deck hand n → matelot m
deck hand deck n → before that.
"A captain has the responsibility for the whole running of the ferry and the safety of the passengers and crew. At first, for me, there was a nagging doubt about whether I could handle the extra responsibility but, once I'd been acting captain for a little while, that doubt left me."
Mersey Ferries employs five captains, five first officers, 10 deck hands and five engineers - though Robbie reveals he couldn't have predicted his now veteran status: "Before, I was a painter and decorator A painter and decorator is a tradesman responsible for the painting and decorating of buildings, and is also known as a decorator or house painterref> History of the trade , but the firm I worked for went bust. This was in 1977 - I was out of work for eight weeks and then the Jobcentre Jobcentre or job centre
(in Britain) a government office where advertisements of available jobs are displayed
Noun 1. rang up and asked 'Do you fancy a part-time job for the summer on the ferries?' And I'm still here!" And one of the passengers during Robbie's first summer aboard was ... the Queen: the first in a long line of VIPs.
He recalls: "The Queen came on board the old Royal Iris, not long after I started. And we have had Ian Botham Sir Ian Terence Botham, OBE, (born 24 November 1955) is a retired England Test cricketer and Test team captain, and current cricket commentator. He was a genuine all-rounder with 14 centuries and 383 wickets, and remains well known by his nicknames "Beefy"  , John Prescott
Her time as Northern Ireland Secretary saw the signing of the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998. , Margaret Thatcher, Paul McCartney and his late wife, Linda, while, of course, the man himself, Gerry Marsden, is always on."
So, Margaret Thatcher was allowed on, was she? "There was anarchy that day," recalls Robbie - with a smile which says "I don't need to go into too much detail, do I?" "It was at the height of her popularity!" adds Robbie - with another smile. "Most people were kept at arm's length by the police - and it was quite a fleeting visit. She travelled from Seacombe to Liverpool and was then whisked away."
Regarding some of the other famous, and more popular, passengers, he says: "Mo Mowlam was a real character and it was great to meet Paul and the late Linda McCartney, when they came here with Wings (in November, 1979, when they enjoyed a 30-minute cruise). They were just such down-to-earth people - there was nothing grand about them and they seemed just as pleased to be on the ferry as we were to have them on it."
VIPs, of course, get to climb up a ladder and go onto the bridge (and, even though we aren't VIPs, Robbie made an exception for me and ECHO photographer Jason Roberts) - and the captain says: "When people come up here they're always taken aback and say 'Wow! We are on the bridge of a Mersey ferry!' Then they say 'Blimey, you still have a wheel!' " But that isn't the only "blimey blimey
Brit & NZ slang an exclamation of surprise or annoyance [short for gorblimey God blind me]
blimey excl (BRIT) (col) → ¡caray! " people come out with, Robbie says: "It's great to hear visitors and tourists saying how wonderful a place they think Liverpool is these days - some have even said 'Blimey! I thought the ferries closed down years ago!' " The three Mersey ferries are the Snowdrop snowdrop: see amaryllis.
Any of about 12 species and many variations of white-flowered, spring-blooming, bulbous Eurasian plants that make up the genus Galanthus of the amaryllis family. Several species, including common snowdrop (G. (which was looking after us), the Royal Daffodil and the Royal Iris of the Mersey, and their working days are split between the commuter services and River Explorer tourist cruises.
And it's perhaps worth bearing in mind that the 50-minute River Explorer sailings were relatively recent additions (well, if you're of a certain age, 20 odd years is relatively recent).
"The River Explorer, in its first guise, started in 1990," says Robbie.
That was when, after a decline in commuter traffic, Merseytravel relaunched the ferries as a heritage and visitor attraction.
Today, the weekday commuter service - 10 minutes from Seacombe to Liverpool - begins at 7.20am and these run until 9.50am.
Then, from 10am until 4pm (they run later at weekends and on Bank Holidays, see www.merseyferries.co.uk) it's the turn of the River Explorer cruises - complete with a little blast of Gerry Marsden's Ferry 'cross The Mersey.
Robbie is either a big Gerry fan or a diplomat - he disagrees with my suggestion he must be sick to death of the song, but admits: "It is ingrained on my mind by the end of the week. Let's just say I don't need to buy the single!" Yes, that song goes on "day after day" (after day after day after day).
But there is far more to Mersey Ferries than the direct commuter and River Explorer cruises - like, for example, eco cruises for schoolchildren and the cruises along the Manchester Ship Canal Manchester Ship Canal, 35.5 mi (57 km) long with a minimum depth of 28 ft (8.5 m), connecting Manchester, W England, with the Mersey estuary at Eastham, above Birkenhead. Begun in 1887, it was opened in 1894 and changed Manchester from a river port to a seaport. .
Robbie says: "On the eco cruises, we take the children out to Liverpool Bay, as far as Crosby, while the Manchester Ship Canal cruise is a great day out. I would strongly advise anyone who hasn't been on it to see for themselves - it's not just about industrial landscapes, because there is also some really nice countryside."
As for the ferries themselves, many of us, Robbie agrees, take them for granted - "because they're on our doorstep" - but some people do think of them when it comes to very special and poignant occasions.
Robbie says: "We have wedding receptions on the Royal Daffodil and people have asked if they can get married on a ferry, but we haven't got a wedding licence.
"Also, people ring up to say they would like to scatter ashes on the river - that is quite common. People come from all over the country to do that, including the families of old sailors. There is a certain point on the river where we will slow the boat and give them a few minutes on their own."
He adds: "There was one strange occasion. I was talking to the people on the day and asking 'Was it a close member of the family?' and they said 'Yes, it was the cat'."
Our own journey - well, at least our ferry journey - was almost at an end, and, as we approached the Pier Head, Robbie - who says no two days are the same because the river is always different - reflects on our ever-evolving waterfront.
"I've seen so many changes to the skyline over the last 35 years - it's been unbelievable.
''I've seen everything take shape, gradually, day by day, like the Museum of Liverpool The Museum of Liverpool is due to open in 2010 and will be part of the National Museums Liverpool group.
National Museums Liverpool proposes that the new venue will tell the story of Liverpool, its people and reflect the city’s global significance. and the ECHO Arena. I feel very privileged to be on the waterfront and on the river."
FAMOUS NAMES: Paul McCartney and Margaret Thatcher MASTER: Mersey Ferry captain Robbie Quinn Pictures: JASON ROBERTS/ jr1605behindscene-1 ON THE BRIDGE: Robbie Quinn Code: jr1605behindscene-3