My Maiden Voyage Goes On and On – A Sailor’s Yarn (part three)

Watching the deck crew I could sense a lift in the atmosphere.  I swear I often heard Waltzing Matilda sang and whistled.  I was spending 90% of my time studying charts on the bridge as we picked our way through the reefs and islands under the tutelage of the 2nd Mate – I had earlier described him as an archetypal grumpy Scotsman having been twice shipwrecked during WWII, as usual my first impressions were wrong.  –  He had virtually adopted me and I learned more from Hamish Orr in eight or nine months than three years at Naval College.  Practical seamanship and navigation can only be properly learned on the job, and Hamish had set his sights on my passing my 2nd Mates ticket.  In reality I was doing all his work for him but loving it.

We were just passing the land mass of Papua New Guinea when the ships radio called our call sign. . . . Temple Bar from Radio Portishead Call sign GKA – Temple Bar are you receiving?  I dashed over to acknowledge.  –  Change of destination, you are to re-route to Cairns,       North Queensland.  Together with our new longitude and latitude coordinates.  All of the mess decks have personal radios tuned into the ship’s radio so there was nothing secret about our instructions.  Exactly when the cursing and swearing started but I returned to the chart table for some new dead reckoning and keeping my head down.  Perhaps it was my imagination but the happy go lucky atmosphere seemed changed.

Personally I was even more excited by conning our way through the coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef.  In fact by the time we made landfall the skipper took me aside and I was given my own watch and we were able to split into traditional three sections with dog watches.  I’m not going to explain further but it means less time on shift and longer off-duty.  Mainly shift changes, daily; I took the ship right in to the bay until we met the Pilot and he took the con!  My cap would no longer fit my swollen head.

Cairns in the 1950s was still very much a shanty town, harking back to its gold rush roots – a lot of its streets were of compressed sand and sawdust with only a few tarmacadam surfaces.  The Pilot took us alongside ad gave us the news that the Australian Labour Party had called out the local Wharfies (Aussie Dockers) on strike.  It seemed that no-one was sure what their beef was and when I asked him the Pilot said “Our Labour Party doesn’t need an excuse to strike”.  I heard him cautioning the Skipper not to upset the Unions, just sit back for a few days until they get bored and the Wharfies need to buy food for their family.

I believe that I originally described Harold Collins, the Skipper as a small insignificant man.  Well when we had said farewell to the Pilot, Harold went ballistic, calling the Australian Labour Party a bunch of leaderless commies whose only aim in life was to do as much damage as possible to their own country.  He expanded his wrath to the stupid Wharfies who weren’t getting paid while on strike and daft enough to let their families go hungry whenever the Party and Union blew a whistle like Pavlov’s dogs.  I was tasked to make sure to organise shore leave on a roster but having a strong watch party ensuring no-one other than crew came aboard to discourage thieving of stores and cargo and malicious damage.  Were those words of one HERMAN HOSTETTER of San Pedro ringing in my ears?  I wonder who had put a bug up his bottom about the Aussie Labour Party.  Hindsight is a wondrous thing.

Hamish the 2nd Mate asked me to keep my ear to the ground to get an early warning on who was planning to jump ship.  Ronnie Brown sounded me out as to whether Adelaide was still on the cards.  Obviously Cairns wasn’t his ideal destination.  The next bad news we learned was that licensing laws in Queensland were fairly rigidly policed and all bars and hotels had to stop serving alcohol at 1800 hrs.  I then heard of the famous six o’clock swill.  An Australian and New Zealand slang term for the last minute rush to buy drinks at an hotel or bar before it closed.  For the best part of the 20th century serving alcohol had to stop at 6 pm.  A culture of heavy drinking developed between finishing work at 5 pm and mandatory closing time just one hour later.  I never learned the logic behind this – who knows the mind of politicians.  Within a week our crews had solved the problem of this minor irritation and we had found an hotel on one of the side streets where admission was by climbing through a side window after 8 pm and we were able to drink in a dimly lit room until midnight, together with most of the crew and about 50 locals.  The things we do for excitement!

Another incident that sticks in my mind was being told by the Skipper, to get my uniform dry cleaned as a local English businessman and his family had contacted him and extended an invitation for a meal at the weekend.  He had accepted on my behalf.  He also told me to get them to sew on my new medal ribbons and to polish my shoes. – It turned out that this English family lived in a huge house on the sugar plantation that they owned.  I can’t say that I was happy as a strolled along the sandy street to the dry cleaners. I was wearing ate shirt (latest trend) and shorts with just a pair of flip flops on my feet.  I kicked through the dried leaves when an enormous black scorpion ran over my bare foot with its tail curled over its back.  When I say it was the largest scorpion that I’d ever seen, it was the only one I’d ever seen.  I was far more scared than I had been during the shelling in Korea. – I didn’t stop running until I slammed the door behind me at the dry cleaners.  They kindly allowed me to wait inside until my cleaning was ready and my ribbons sewn on.

When I related my tale to Hamish he didn’t believe me that they had scorpions the size of bantam hens, or that I was able to run a four minute mile.  At the weekend I went to carry out my duty visit first by running the gauntlet of wolf whistling ship’s crew and I was red faced as I climbed into what I thought was a taxi until the liveried chauffeur stepped smartly our to open the door for me – Oh God the things I have to do for my career. – Things could only get better.  And my goodness did they get better.  My hosts Duncan and Elizabeth had married over 20 years previously in Kingston Surrey just before WWII broke out and immigrated basically for their honeymoon.  –  Duncan had a job offer to manage the cane farm and as they say he loved it so much he eventually bought the company.  The news gets even better when I was introduced to their stunningly beautiful daughter also called Liz who was just about a year older than me.  I was head over heels in love.  I allowed myself to be talked into staying for the weekend…  Well it would have been churlish not to especially as Liz was to spend the weekend showing me the beauty of Cairns and the surrounding area.  I prayed that the strike would continue for weeks.

My shipmates had stopped taking the Mickey once the beautiful girl collected me in her little Italian car and took me off to the delights of Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef.  Would you believe it in daddy’s yacht, well more like his power boat and he even fixed me up with one of his wet suits. – Paradise!  This state of affairs (hmm!)  continued for 8 more days when we were instructed to leave quietly during the night and travel down the coast to the next port – Townsville.  – I managed to get a message to Liz as to our plans.  We slipped out and docked in Townsville in the early hours.  It was all to no avail as the strike followed us.  I managed a couple more enthralling days with my lovely girl and it was at her suggestion that repeated our moonlight flit further along the coast to the port of MacKay.  Would you believe it the strike struck again and two days later we slunk back into Cairns with our tails between our legs.  Our local agent did a grand job and three further days of sitting quietly the full crew of Wharfies turned to. – Those three days were put to good use as Liz took me to a fantastic place call Airlie Beach.  I learned from her before the Skipper knew that once our holds were empty we were to be loaded with refined sugar from her father’s factory and we were to be homeward bound.

Both our Agent and Harold , the Skipper credited my diplomacy for getting a really profitable deal for the company.  I took advantage of the situation and swung several further days with Liz and several dinners with her parents.  Duncan was probing as to my intentions even hinting at a job if I wanted it.  Thankfully Liz informed them that we were very good friends, adults but too young to be anything more.  It may have been imagination but I thought her parents were equally relieved.

We had a few more dramas before we sailed. – I had the good fortune to have the alibi of spending the night with Liz in an Hotel owned by her family.  I returned to the ship on Monday morning like a dog with two tails, I was stopped at the gangway by Ronnie Brown and Janek with the news that our paint store had been broken into and many hundreds of gallons of white paint had been stolen. – They were in five gallon drums and would have been impossible to move unnoticed.  Ronnie and Janek both said they had been lax and had slept through most of the night. – Nothing rang true even though I considered them good friends.  I part of a guardrail had been unscrewed seeming to indicate that the paint drums had been lowered into a boat alongside. – Something screamed of an ‘inside job’ where the glass window had been smashed and the glass lay outside.  Police were called and gave Ronnie and Janek the third degree.  Gave the Skipper a Police report suggesting that a lot of Wharfies hadn’t been paid during the strike, they supposed that they had inside help but couldn’t prove anything and one tin of white paint looked like white paint. – End of investigation.

Two days before departure date Ronnie Brown, Janek, Ronnie’s three cousins and four other from the black gang disappeared during the night together with all of their belongings.  I Chinese Parliament held in the Wardroom decided that it was good riddance to bad rubbish, and we wouldn’t report the missing men until the day before we sailed.  I cannot report the language of the Skipper and the Chief Engineer.

After a couple more romantic days with Liz, we bid a fond farewell and set sail on a homeward bounder.  A fairly uneventful trip but I must mention a couple of highlights that bear mention.  We were crossing the Indian Ocean approaching the land mass of Ceylon (It didn’t change its name until the 1970s) on our starboard side.  I was Officer of the Watch taking bearings and using a sextant, plotting our position on the chart.  I noted a large tanker approaching us at a similar speed to us.  I altered course slightly so we would pass port to port within 100 yards. (If both lights you see ahead, starboard wheel and show your red)  As we closed I checked our Radar and it all looked good. – Suddenly with no warning the skies went black and we were hit by a tropical storm and the Radar screen went haywire.  We couldn’t see our own forecastle – It was worse than a pea soup fog.

Panic, Moi?   Well something took over and I shot down below to call Hamish – Thank God he was awake.  He came up to the bridge in his skivvies under his oilskins. I quickly briefed him, told him what I had down.  I recall him saying that I had done everything that I could and when I said that the tanker was riding high and looked to be empty. Quite memorably Hamish said “If we hit that, we won’t need life-jackets, we’ll need parachutes” .Both ships were sounding our sirens but they just sounded near. – Suddenly the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started and there on our port side some 30 or 40 yards away was the tanker.  It was a British ship, one of the British Tanker Corporation with its name running the length of its hull.  The name BRITISH MARINER, another name that I shall remember forever more.

My next memory happened in the Red Sea, we stopped to refuel at Port Tufic at the southern end of the Suez canal.  There were three painting stages each with a couple of the deck crew who were painting the black side.  I was busy, leaning over the side of the flying wing of the bridge and I could see a couple of tiger sharks cruising about 100 yards away.  I heard a crash,  a shout and a couple of splashes and saw that two of the paint stages had collided while lowering themselves down to reposition their stages and the four occupant had tumbled into the oggin!  You might even say shark infested oggin!  Their shipmates had quickly thrown them lifebelts and proceeded to haul all four to safety.  I ran down from the bridge to see if I could help when I heard a near apoplectic Dublin voice bellowing “I see you saved your feckin hats, what about my feckin paintbrushes?” He was scarlet faced and actually dancing as he stamped his feet!  Now I don’t remember calling him Paddy but perhaps I did, I know that I suggested he go and sit down and cool off and I would sort it out.  He began shouting “Don’t you call me Paddy you jumped up Snotty Whippersnapper!  Snotty is a nautical term for a Midshipman/Apprentice maybe whippersnapper is a similar nautical expression anyway I was relieved that he stormed off.

The remainder of the trip was again straightforward.  The Suez Canal was interesting and a place I was to get to know more intimately later in my life.  We were steaming up the channel, all excited at docking in King George V docks and then a good break. – We had passed the Isle of Wight, when the ships radio came on – Temple Bar this is Portishead Radio call in GKA.  I answered and gave our position.  – Change on destination our new orders were return through the Suez Canal and to take our lovely cargo of refined sugar through the Persian Gulf.  What is it about bloody sugar and the SS Temple Bar?    Perhaps we will exchange sugar for some beautiful carpets! But that’s another story.

. . . ‘ I’m beginning to think that someone up there believes it was I who shot the Albatross’

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My Maiden Voyage and Onward – A Sailor’s Yarn (part two)

The most notable thing about being on a tramp steamer is that one minute you are bound for South Australia and the next your destination can change faster than you can change your clothes.  We had got as far as Ushant in the Western Approaches when our masters decided that our general cargo, destined for Adelaide would make more money in Tampa in Florida – “Starboard Twenty . . . . . . “

The ‘scuttlebutt in the wardroom was not particularly happy because we had been wrong footed.  However the rest of the crew were furious.  I quickly realised that more than half of the men had only signed on because they had designs on illegally ‘jumping ship’ once we had made landfall in Australia.  When I think back it was totally illogical because at that time for just a £10 fee they would have been welcome immigrants.  Perhaps they needed a sense of adventure.  Just as in the Canterbury Tales one cannot read the Shipman’s mind.

Other memorable members of the ship’s crew that I have not yet mentioned were the Geordie Chef, who turned out some really excellent meals but had a roaring drink problem and on odd occasions we found that the deck boy/cabin boy always known as ‘The Peggy’, was doing the cooking.  Peggy also deserves a mention he was a ‘rather fey’ young lad with the unfortunate name of Gilbert Buttery from Plumstead which summed him up to a T.  More of Gilbert later.

Sharing the amidships cabin to respect their seniority, were the Bosun (boatswain) who was an Irishman of about 40, who seemed  to always in a bad temper.  We never crossed swords but I was often to hear him cursing me below his breath.  I must say that I steered clear of him if I could.  His cabin mate was the Shipwright (Chippie) another ‘Geordie’ well sort of, he was from Middlesbrough, which is in Yorkshire but spoke with a Geordie accent to everyone’s ears, wae’aye man!  He was a happy go lucky 50 years old.  His job appeared to be a Mr Fixit, repairing anything that needs fixing.

He sticks in my memory for his performance when he totally lost his cool.  The Bosun and the Chippie used to eat in their cabin suite and took it in turns to collect their meals from the galley.  One lunchtime as we were approaching Florida landmass, we were being greeted by flocks of noisy seagulls.  The Chippie was carrying two plates as he collected his and the Bosun’s lunch.  He was happily singing as he danced along the deck when a couple of seagulls swooped towards his plates and he shouted to frighten them off, the birds veered skywards and one of them crapped in fright and bird shit splashed right into one of the plates.  That was when Chippie completely lost it!  He hurled his plate of food at the appreciative swooping gulls, and began screaming “You feckng shitehawks, why couldn’t you shit in his dinner instead of mine?”  He was nearly foaming at the mouth.

By this time I was close behind him and was laughing – He promptly threw the Bosun’s dinner plate at me and thankfully missed.  There must have been 50 odd birds swooping at the food splattered all over the deck.  The pair of us were completely overwhelmed by the feathered rats and by this time both could see the funny side and dissolved into fits of laughter and another friendship was formed.

We docked alongside in Tampa and were unloaded overnight, while the crew had our first run ashore. . . . . . The next morning I was involved in a conference among the deck officers and that evening we moved for 30 miles along the Florida coast to a US Naval establishment where we loaded to the gunwales with mixed general cargo, the loading took two days.  We set sail with the crew believing that we were waiting instructions.  In reality we were heading to Korea with general stores for the United Nations troops who were fighting Kim il Sung’s North Korean troops who had overrun South Korea and America together with United Nations troops were pushing them back . . . . . . . and another fine mess you’ve got yourself into Jake hmm!  We were escorted alongside at a port near Inchean and set about unloading out cargo, tout de suite!

Meanwhile the US 7th Fleet lay offshore and were shelling the forest above the docks where we, me in particular were cringing, absolutely terrified, watching shells flying over us, they looked the size of double-decker busses as they hurtled into the jungle – I don’t remember any retaliatory returning fire.  I know that I was a very frightened 16 year old boy doing a man’s job, but I was no more frightened than most of our crew.  In the early hours the sporadic shelling ceased and Jet Fighters began flying from an aircraft carrier, streaking over our little ship as we carried on our business of unloading as we listened to cannon fire in the distance.  That unloading was literally all hands on deck.

By the time all our holds were empty we were into our third day and the shelling had become sporadic.  Oddly enough and I can’t speak for the crew but I no longer felt scared.  The Captain disappeared ashore to confer with our agent by telephone and the powers that be.  The Second Mate told me that we would probably make our way back to the USA to wait for instructions.  I was convinced in my ‘Boys Own’ mind that we had been hi-jacked by the yanks to bring more goods back to the war-zone.  We remained alongside for a fourth day well aware of the fighting going on around us.  I remember going into the seaman’s mess and jokingly asking if anyone fancied a run ashore.  No-one seemed to have a sense of humour any more.

That evening while partaking our evening meal the skipper took out four small boxes and passed me two of them, saying that as was the youngest officer, they would probably be of more use to me than anyone.  That was the ceremony when I was awarded the pair of United Nations Korean War medals.  I was quite pleased to see that the Third Mate was really pissed off that he had been excluded!  Can you imagine later in my life being asked “I see you have the Korean War medals when were you there?”  Me, mumbling “Four days, but I heard a few bangs” My medals remained in their boxes.

We ran back to America to pick up a cargo from a place called San Pedro in California, mightily relieved that we were not to be seconded to the US Navy.  San Pedro is a really exotic location with the entrance some ten miles along a river that appeared to be lined with really large pelicans and flamingos who totally ignored our passage, in fact all passing shipping – They were perched on every single post or withy along our route.  Before docking to take on our cargo, we stopped just offshore at a fuelling jetty to refuel.

It was there I met the most obnoxious and offensive immigration official, one of nature’s bullies.  Remember, we had been cleared some two or three months previously in Tampa and had loaded stores in a US Naval base in Florida and had been with the US Navy in Korea.  This ignorant pig was hell bent on cross examining me as to my politics – Had I ever been a member of the Australian Labour Party? I’d never even been to Australia – It turned out that he’d misread our manifest and had spotted our original destination.  Rather than admit his mistake, the idiot took 45 minutes of third degree before signing my permission to land and go ashore in the land of the free!  I kept his precious immigration clearance piece of paper many years and had many laughs over it for the name of this All-American boy was HERMAN HOSTETTER perhaps he should have said “Ve haf vays of making you talk”  –  Joking apart if you Google the name (and I did) it is in fact a common long established name in the US.

Apart from Herr Herman my first visit to California was great but too short as after only a few days we were loaded and on our way to British Guiana which was then a part of the British West Indies on the North coast of mainland South America.  We docked in the main town which was Georgetown where we were unloaded by a local crew which was to take four days – If I tell you that Georgetown is at the mouth of a large river called Demerara, it will not take much of an imagination to guess what our cargo was to be once our holds had been emptied.  The good news was that we now had at least 6 days to sample the delights of Georgetown which was highlighted with lush rain forests full of exotic wild life and the people are laid back easy going west Indians full of calypsos and happy people.

Now I might have got that a bit wrong but the place was delightful, the exchange rates were very much in our favour and the atmosphere was fun.  We donned our best bib and tucker and myself and the Second and Third mates set of to enjoy, a good time was had by all.  As we made our way back to our ship, replete, happy but not drunk we bumped into our Deck Boy the redoubtable Gilbert Buttery from Plumstead.  He had gone ashore on his lonesome as was his nature.  We continued on our way joking and generally teasing Gilbert, when a large, very black man, appeared in front of us, totally blocking our path.  He was big, not very tall perhaps 5’6” but he was about 5’6” across.  I can’t  remember how he was dress other than a bright red baseball cap, I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone wearing on before – It suddenly dawned on me that the guy was carrying, no wielding an enormous machete/cane knife and threatening us with it and demanding our wallets, watches, cash, in fact empty all of your pockets.

I came out of my blue funk haze when Gilbert began screaming at the top of his voice and he took off shrieking like a girl and doing about 20 knots down the hill.  The robber kept his cool and continued to relieve us three remaining victims of every single valuable that we owned and then turned and walked coolly away.  We acted like zombies, really not knowing what to do other than return to the ship.  Gilbert the Peggy had already alerted the ship’s crew and they met us with about a dozen crew members and they went off in search of the robber, while we waited at the ship for the Police to arrive.

I was particularly upset because I had lost a nearly new Rolex Oyster Air King watch that had been a gift from my sponsor Herbert and was the most valuable thing that I had ever owned.  A couple of cops arrived dressed like the military and took us for a drive round to see if we could identify out assailant.  At the same time giving a lecture on how poor the local population was and that it was no surprise that they were driven to temptation, etc.  Not a lot different to our police today.  They didn’t just give us a crime number; we were each supplied with a copy of a crime report.

All three of us spent hours on the following day at the British Embassy being issued with a Seaman’s identity card the equivalent of a passport.  In those days the country was a British Protectorate, part of the British Empire. It is now an independent country named Guyana, still covered in dense rain forest, English speaking with cricket and calypso music.  I don’t suppose it has changed much in the past 60 years but I have never felt the urge to return.

We departed full to the gunwales with large sacks full of unrefined sugar bound for the Far East.  Sugar to Singapore, where we refuelled.  Some of our crew were unlucky enough to have to spend 2 days with the shore crew, cleaning out the cargo holds where the stinking Demerara had leaked into the bilges and turned into molasses in the tropical heat.  This gave the majority of the crew the opportunity for some time ashore.  My first visit to the lovely city, island and country of Singapore – Over the years I have had the opportunity to return and each visit it seems to get even better.  I always feel that the government has got it right.

I keep saying that a tramp steamer is quite unique as it has a company agent shuffling cargoes between ports.  A ship can be laden with general cargo, say electrical goods and set sail to a buyer in Hong Kong and two days out the buyer in Hong Kong has sold the whole cargo to one or two of the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines. –  Hence, wrong, footed again!  So its Starboard 30 to an island names Bataan.

My nearly 17 year old mind is thinking “Back to Bataan” – 12 years previously the Japanese marched 76,000 prisoners of war some 80 miles across the Bataan peninsula during WWII, The famous death march with a death toll of at least 10,000 and once they got to the prison camp thousands more perished from starvation and disease over the next few years.  The survivors were rescued by US troops in 1945 when they re-took the Philippines.  My only real knowledge was from films and a few newsreels but I approached the Island of Bataan with a little trepidation.  The truth I learned was a little different – The death march took place on the peninsular of Bataan, we were bound for the Island of Luzon to the city of Bataan in Manila Bay.  Navigation was a real school lesson for me as we plotted through coral reefs littered with shipwrecks – not all from wartime.  Stunning blue seas, white sand beaches, marine turtles and exotic bird life.  I saw a huge towering memorial commemorating the Battle of Bataan in WWII.

Once we docked in the city we were descended upon by the largest number on dock workers imaginable, cheap labour?  We obviously weren’t needed but had no chance to go ashore as we were turning around in less than 24 hours with only two holds for Bataan.  What I could see was beautiful scenery full of colourful bird life.  The housing had a sort of temporary look about it.  We could have had a cheap and interesting run ashore but time is money and the promise of the capital Manila just a short hop across the bay looked promising.  It is still on the same Island of Luzon and there lay more broken dreams of this young mariner!

If you Google Manila, it will tell you that it is one of the most populous cities in the world – I would put money that in my day 1954 it was the world leader.  We still had six holds stacked with miscellaneous electrical goods that were the pride of Singapore.  As we docked we were descended upon by hordes of workers.  In Bataan we had the impression that we had been taken over by thousands of Dockers.  In Manila we were overrun by swarms of black ants who emptied holds, cleaned them and promptly and tidily re-stacked all hols with what else but Manila rope and cordage, coconut products such as coconut oil in 5 gallon drums, dried coconut copra, at least 2 holds packed with soap products that smelled far nicer than Demerara sugar.  Finally all the holds were topped off with layers of green bananas. – That’s what you call a mixed cargo.  I was on duty overseeing the Dockers, what delightful people they were!

On the day before we were due to sail, the 2nd Mate and I grabbed a taxi and headed for the city which had some stunning architecture with really historic buildings, BUT – did I mention its population?  If you think London or New York are busy and then multiply by 100 that was Manila.  We were nearly stationary in our taxi and apparently there aren’t many cars.  Anyway we gave up after a couple of hours and grabbed a rickshaw for our return journey.  That was only slightly quicker than our taxi ride.

We left the Philippines on the following morning with our destination and route fully laid out for us.  We set our compass once again for South Australia – Adelaide here we come and the spirits of the crew had lifted.

But that’s another story. . . . . . . . . . .

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My Maiden Voyage and Before – A Sailor’s Yarn (part one)

A few weeks ago one of my offspring asked me, “is there anything you haven’t done?” I’m not sure if this was meant as an admiring observation, or whether it was the words of someone who was sick of hearing my rambling anecdotes about my exploits in Mexico and the Americas, Japan, South Africa or in Arctic warfare training much later, most probably it was the latter, since I do sometimes tend to reminisce about the past. As you dear reader, will know we always call it swinging the lantern. I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase, “the older I get, the better I was.” Well that’s me!

Sooner or later my mind is going to slow down, some will say the process has already started, and my recall won’t be what it once was. So before these tales disappear forever, I have self-indulgently begun to recount a few of these memories. The funny thing is, as I think about incidents in my past and start to write, a state of amnesia sets in and those obscure memories crystallise and de-pixilate to a point where I can again become that 16 or that 20 year old person – and in a way it is an invigorating and inspiring exercise.

I start with a Blog – and will continue to do so, until my memory finally gives out, or until someone tells me to stop; or I run out of ink (or enthusiasm), I’ll put them here. To begin at the beginning. . . . . . . . . .

After passing my 11 plus and becoming settled attending the nearest Grammar School to my home and having to travel twenty or so miles on a pre-war bus each way, thus adding about 3 hours to my school day. I was able to complete my homework during this tedious journey but did nothing to add to my love for school or my impatience to get on with my life.

My father had a wealthy, very close friend called Herbert, whom had already gifted me a horse that he had originally bought for his locally ensconced mistress, the lovely Iris and it turned out she was terrified of horses. So for three or four years I had the sole ownership of a beautiful roan horse of 14 hands that i spent a lot of my young life on. The deal was that I exercised the horse that had its paddock and stable free and all its tack supplied. The only downside was that my elder sister often refused to eat at the same table with me, because for some reason she said I smelled of horses.

Somehow this same wealthy friend, Herbert, who owned a large shoe factory in Northamptonshire and was chairman of his local council, heard of my wish to adopt a seafarers life and he used his influence to get me any grants available plus his greatly appreciated sponsorship and I found myself giving up my daily three hour commute and moving my life lock, stock and barrel, to become a boarder at Greenwich Naval College. I remember vividly, at the age of 13, being taken to the railway station at Bletchley by my father with a huge trunk and a smaller case and being helped into a railway carriage and being waved off with lots of instructions on how to get from Euston to somewhere called Cannon street and then to Greenwich. Of course it’s now all a blur in my mind but I succeeded in finding my way.

I absolutely loved being at Greenwich, even getting chased by a tutor/boatswain wielding a knotted ropes-end at 0530 hours along the hard to row on the Thames in whalers and cutters before swimming and showering before breakfast. I took to seamanship and navigation like a duck to water. Another memory that stands out was my home leave at the end of the first term. Our uniform was that of a Naval Cadet/Midshipman and we were only allowed to travel in uniform.

I had arranged to meet Ma and Pa on Waterloo station prior to a day in London. We were going to see Vic Oliver at the London Palladium – Gosh that memory has just come back to me. Anyway at that time, not long after the war had ended and there were armed soldiers on guard at the start of each platform. Don’t ask me why, probably there was a surfeit of soldiers. Picture me a jumped up little snob pretending not to be a schoolboy, posing as a Naval Officer and as I walked past to pair of soldiers they stamped their feet to attention, presented arms as I strolled by. Frightened me at first but I realised they had mistaken me for an officer and as I had been taught, I returned their salute.

I am so ashamed to admit it now but I had over an hour to kill before meeting the venerable parents and I deliberately walked along the concourse and imagining myself as Jack Hawkins or some other hero of the Western Approaches and earned myself at least three more salutes from armed guards. You dear reader, should be honoured that I have added that minor confession because it still embarrasses me and I don’t think I’ve told the story before.

I always made sure that whenever I could I kept in touch with Herbert my sponsor; my Ma and Pa were completely out of their depth at Greenwich, seemingly overawed by the pomp and circumstance of artwork, the painted ceilings and the very history of the place. However when I invited Herbert and his model girlfriend, they belonged there. To cut a long story short the following Spring I was contacted by Herbert who it transpired had shares in the Ellerman Lines which also had acquired the Temple Steamship Company. “Was I set on the Royal Navy? or would I be interested in a career in the Merchant Navy” because he could pull a few strings. There was a British ship in port which was short of a couple of hands. If I was interested there was a job for me as a Deck Apprentice with an option of promotion to Third Mate as soon as a position became available. Remember I was 15 years old and immortal.

Herbert pulled his strings, and I left Greenwich quite amicably. I signed on a couple of weeks later as a crew member on the SS Temple Bar as its most junior of junior member of the Upper Deck – my official position – “Deck Apprentice”. The Temple Bar was what is known among seafarers as a ‘Fort Ship’ built in a hurry in wartime, using welded plates instead of traditional riveting, all for speed to keep the allies fed with basics.

The ship was registered in Liverpool. She was 7,130 tons (tons deadweight), built in Canada during World War Two and was one of a fleet of cargo tramp Steamers of welded construction some 424.5 feet long and a 57 feet beam. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines. A total of 198 of these ships were built with the hope that if they survived at least one voyage with cargo intact they would be in profit, each subsequent voyage, being a bonus.

The ship’s captain was Harold Collins, a small insignificant looking man, who had survived several Murmansk runs and in reality was a more forceful character than he looked. I had a tiny cabin in the fo’c’sle of the ship (where crew were separated from officers) at my young age and having been fully
trained Greenwich I knew it all. Looking back I know exactly why Midshipmen are given the soubriquet ‘Snotty’, I can think of more appropriate names.

Luckily I was taken under the wing of Ronnie Brown an Able Seaman, who may have had Scouse ancestry but was a Londoner through and through. He was a generous, down to earth fellow, who used to wake me every morning with “Come on then Lofty, rise and shine, you’re not on your Daddy’s yacht now, y’know!” Initially I was a day worker – 7.30 to 5 o’clock with a half hour for lunch. I spent the initial few weeks on the bridge, watching and learning but really following the Skippers instructions to get over there and keep out of everybody’s eff’ing way!.

I didn’t have the most auspicious start because we sailed from King George V dock in East London and made our way down the Thames bound for South Australia. As I looked across the wing of the bridge I was violently sick, much to the amusement of officers and crew alike. “Ha-ha! The ‘prentice is having a ‘Kit Inspection’“

I shared the Officers Mess, a little room just across from the galley where we would eat our meals and meet for smoko during the day. It was here that I learned to put condensed milk in my tea, because it wasn’t easy to find fresh milk at sea and of course, this was before Long-Life Milk appeared on the scene. The additional advantage of condensed milk of course was that it also obviated the need for putting sugar in your tea!

There were four deck officers on board, the Skipper, Second Mate, Third Mate and me. – Then there were three engineers, the Chief Engineer, a morose individual who hailed from Stornaway and who seemed to spend most of his time in his cabin. I don’t think we exchanged more than two words the whole time I was on the ship. The second engineer was a genial portly middle-aged fellow, who had been in the merchant service since the war. Always shirtless when he was working, he seemed to know everything that anyone was ever going to need to know about marine engineering. The third engineer was a sharp tongued, sandy-headed Glaswegian whose frequent expression was “och awa’ an’ keek” (which I translated as meaning you are full of ****, go away). This happy band of brothers……..

I can’t finish this little memory without talking about the second mate. He was another interesting character, an archetypal grumpy old Scottish mariner in the twilight of his career. He had been twice shipwrecked during the second war, and was without a doubt the hardest man I ever had the misfortune of trying to wake up when it was my turn to call him. He would be lying on his back on his bunk, making a noise like a bull farting, fully clothed with his smelly feet hanging over the end of his bunk and he would refuse all attempts to wake him. In the end, it was only vigorous shaking, and shouting in his ear which got him to stir at all, and then I had to dive out of the way as this great claw of a hand would come around to swat me away as if I was a fly. I used to dread this job.

The “deck crew” were an interesting lot – mostly Scots plus a few Englishmen, one Romanian A.B. named Janek, who was heavily tanned and possessed a full set of stainless steel teeth. Probably why he smiled a lot, like many of the seamen he took it upon himself to teach me all the things that Greenwich had missed from my education. Janek together with Ronnie Brown, between the two gave me a great training in life at sea as well as seamanship, simply because we were shipmates. Just thrown together by chance, they were the sort that Rudyard Kipling said you’d want beside you East of Suez, proud to call them friends.

Then there were the Stokers/black gang/greasers; now these were a mystery to everyone. They consisted of over twenty men and included morose men from Stornaway whom spoke seldom and then only amongst themselves, several Glaswegians who chatted a lot but I couldn’t understand them, they sang a long especially with a drink or two. There were a couple of West Indians from the Caribbean who were happy go lucky fellows with everybody. Then there were half a dozen Lascars who worked in the black gang and communicated less than the Stornorwegians.

I learned that our lot were Muslims from the Indian continent, they didn’t eat our food so had to be catered for separately. They didn’t use our toilets but used a sort of ‘outhouse’ that had been hung over the stern and lashed with ropes to guardrail. In reality they just pooped directly into the ocean and to complete their ablutions they carried a small tin, like a Colman’s mustard tin, filled with water. This motley crew also were allowed up from the engine room five times a day in order to pray to their deity. The general opinion of the rest of the ship’s crew were that they were a dirty lot of ‘fuzzy wuzzy’s (back to Kipling again) whose biggest failing was that they didn’t drink alcohol. Shocking!

On then to the adventures of this happy breed, this band of brothers. . . . . . . . . to be continued

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Pontiff Continues to Pontificate

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury continues to play the windbag, continually failing to practice what he preaches and continuing to embarrass the Church of England instead of doing the job that he was chosen for.  One could say that he spends his time fiddling while Rome burns.  While his church continues to crumble around his ears!

Welby spends his hours playing his own brand of politics from any platform that suits him and where he may find an audience whether it be a television programme with a left wing audience, The House of Lords or one of newspapers such as the Guardian where he finds solace.  The vehicle for his more recent brand of narcissistic superiorism is his latest book.  A book which if he were not the Archbishop he would certainly have difficulty finding a publisher for and even more difficulty finding a buyer.

Here he rails against those who buy a second home accusing them of fuelling a dysfunctional housing market and destroying a sense of local community.  I will give Welby that he is an absolute expert on dysfunctionality and poor performance. He is also a specialist in condescension.  The, don’t do as I do. Do as I say type of condescension.

I am certainly not qualified to defend or attack 2nd home owners. All I can say on the subject is that I have seen at first hand, dozens of villages in North Norfolk being rescued from falling into disrepair by incomers and seeing shops that couldn’t restock until they had sold their last tin of carrots, soup or peas suddenly becoming a mini Fortnum and Masons and the shopkeeper’s kids being sent to private schools.  I have spoken to a lot of ancient Norfolk dumplings, retired crabbers and the like, who told me how glad they were to now be able to move to a little bungalow that was only a dream a few years back.

I remember asking one old retired salt if he wasn’t sad to be moving from his old way of life and his only but telling response was “Well, thar’s windy”.  Rather like the miners of both the North East and South Wales! When they closed the Colliery down, they’re really very, very glad!

I often say that if nothing changes, nothing changes, perhaps Welby thinks that if his congregations fall into the poverty trap and his congregations become peasants living in poverty, they will like the domains of Roman Catholic workers in South America, The Philippines or suchlike, worshiping their priests and plating their altars with gold.  No-one buys second homes and makes an injection of cash there.  The peasants may escape as economic migrants if they are lucky.

I’m no authority on the for’s and against of 2nd homes unlike The Most Reverend Justin Welby who owns a six bedroom stone built, second home in Normandy that he keeps empty for him and his family as a retreat.  Of course Welby states that he only owns one house which is the French Gite, because his main residence is his grace and favour home in Lambeth Palace.  He also neglects to mention that his six bedroom house in France also boasts a two bed roomed cottage.  Um! Isn’t that a second home?.

Of course Welby is also a passionate Francophile and bought the spacious Normandy property which is 30 minutes from the beach and near to Mont St Michel, when he lived in Paris decades ago.  That’s how come he is such an expert on Brexit.  I didn’t say an unbiased expert; in fact all he knows is what suits Justin Welby.  Will no-one rid us of this meddlesome priest? Thomas Becket he ain’t.


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A Pollywog loses his virginity

Dipping once again into my memory bank I came across another of my sailor’s yarns.  In these enlightened times of political correctness I am certain that the time honoured ceremony of “Crossing the Equator” has now been watered down to a routine, fairly mundane event mostly a spectacle for passengers on cruise liners. 

 Back in the day, when Nelson was a lad and I was an apprentice deck officer it was a serious event looking back to the days when ships were made of wood and the men were made of steel. It had a more serious purpose designed to test the mettle of novices in the crew and to see if they were made of the right stuff to endure the hardships of the sea.

By the time I first crossed the equator I had actually sailed twice around the world and progressed to the dizzy heights of Third Mate on a ‘dirty British coaster’, well not really it was a Cargo Boat or Tramp Steamer plying its way seeking profitable loads from A to B and in fact not even the Skipper knew our next destination or even our next cargo. My first trip took sixteen months and we actually had circumnavigated the world twice via the USA, and Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and back through the Suez Canal then repeated the other way around via Singapore, Shanghai and Japan all without going near to the Equator. We then left Japan still seeking cargo and sailed to Australia calling at The Marshall Islands and The Philippines.

It became apparent from seeing a cabal consisting of the Boatswain, the Shipwright and the Chief Engineer and ‘all the guys from the band’, that something was afoot. They became King Neptune and his Royal Court, Royal Scribes, Trusty Shellbacks, The Royal Baby, Davy Jones and Her Highness Amphitrite.

My memory fades in the mists of time but I can remember being very nervous when I was summoned, along with all the other Pollywogs (Google it), to appear before the Royal Court of the Realm of Neptune because it had been brought to his attention that the ship was about to enter those waters manned by a crew who had not acknowledged the sovereignty of the Ruler of the Deep and had transgressed on his domain and thereby incurred his displeasure.

I was seized, tethered and stripped of my dignity as I was covered with thick foam – a mixture of ox-blood and salt water normally used to fight fire aboard and then shaved from top to bottom by three of Neptune’s hand maidens using a wooden three foot long cutthroat razor. One of the said maidens had a beard and bore a strong resemblance to the Chief Steward, he might even have been a Bar Steward!

I was then put through a series of harrowing and embarrassing tasks, gigs, obstacles and physical hardships. The entire ceremony took over four hours during which time the ship’s ensign was lowered and replaced with a large Jolly Roger.

At the end of Neptune’s Assizes I was ordered to kneel before the Royal Baby who was the ugliest shellback member of the crew and kiss his navel, which was filled and overflowing with really hot mustard, Ugh! Spit!

Thence duly inducted as a Son of Neptune. . . . . . . . . . .Be it known to all Sailors wherever you may be and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Dolphins, Eels, Skates, Crab, Lobsters and all living things of the sea . . . . . . . . . . I was that Sailor!


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The tale of a rotten Apple.

My Apple iPad 2 32Gb is coming up to its six birthday and has travelled the world with me. Accompanied me up mountains, slept in a tent and sailed on ocean racing yachts. The only time it has put a foot wrong was when the internal battery had to be replaced. It’s not a love story but I have become quite fond of it as an efficient business tool.

Three days ago without warning it decided to upgrade to IOS11 itself, automatically and then rebooted itself. Once the silver Apple logo had finished its business and switched itself off it all looked good.

It then refused to switch on and the was notice saying it was Application locked until I typed in my Apple name and my password. Wrong! Name not recognised, then wrong password half a dozen attempts and am now frozen out until the following day.

Next day On the advice of the AppleSparks shop I switched the tablet on and before trying anything else I hard rebooted it. Same problem.

Apple have an impressive website for customer support and I went on that via my iPhone. To speak to anyone or contact by text or email you are required to prove you are a human being and not a robot by typing in a few letters and numbers. You do that, but the continue button remains greyed out. I tried that performance 16 times over two hours and could get no further. I’m a calm and placid type but my bloody iPhone nearly left my office via the window.

My local Apple technical repair shop had a go but got no further that I had and I was advised that if I couldn’t get on-line support I would have to go to my nearest Apple Store which is in Milton Keynes. A round trip of 30 miles! Have you ever tried parking in Central Milton Keynes?

I found the 🍏 Store in the centre and was fortunate to find a support technician who spent over an hour on the problem after expressing a determination not to let it beat him. I left bearing a working iPad now linked to my iPhone, with somewhat mixed feelings about Steve Jobs and the Apple Corporation.

A little bird in their store let slip that one of their biggest complaints was from customers not being able to access the on-line support website. Not good from the worlds largest Information Technology Company who also send their customers glitches in their updates. No doubt they will soon be sending out updates containing patches to repair the problems.

I wonder if this grumpy old sod can claim for wasting three days of my life and thirty miles worth of petrol in a V8 4.5 litre car for sending a maggot to eat into my Apple?

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It still brings tears to my eyes!

Watching a couple of young bloods in the gym while I was working out on one of the Abs Resistance Machines brought a long forgotten memory back. The lads were doing standing leaps up on to large padded blocks of some 3.6 feet cubes. I remembered some fifty years back I was in our club, prior to setting out for a some serious rock climbing. I carried out nearly the same exercise that the lads in the gym were doing but I was using our full size billiard table instead of gym equipment. One one of my jumps I didn’t quite make it and crashed my shins on the edge of the table. Serious rock climbing? I couldn’t walk to the ambulance. I sat back on the Abs Machine and stroked my shins. I still have a large missing chunk like a pothole out of my shinbone as an aid memoir!

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You cannot be serious. Oh you are!

As King Harold said, watch those ruddy archers, they could have someone’s eye out!  A re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings was cancelled last weekend by Elf n’ Safety because it was too wet. I need comment no further, so ‘nuff said.  However the news did jog this old chap’s memory and I thought that I might share it with you.

A few years back I was doing some writing work for an event organising company and I got blagged into managing a re-enactment of the Duke of Wellington kicking Napoleon’s French backside.  The battle was to take place on the cliffs around a Martello Tower at Folkestone.

The re-enactors were rather strange fellows who took the whole thing very seriously even to the point of living in true to life 1815 tents and cooking on open fires.

I arrived on the afternoon before the public event and the whole ensemble of troops, horses, female camp followers, even rabid looking curs scrounging around the camp.  The Frog troops were on the other side of the hill.  Both sides were living the whole dream in complete character.  Even though there were no public in attendance.  I was walking around introducing myself as the Event Manager with my jaw dropped.  I don’t think anyone heard me muttering “I don’t believe it, so many oddballs all in one place.

I spoke to a Colonel in the full dress uniform of the 1st Life Guards, I complimented him on his superb turn out and learned that he was a London Transport bus driver in his real life and had paid over £1500 for his outfit.  He pointed me to his leader, an authentic looking Duke of Wellington who even looked like Goya’s portrait of the great man, complete with cocked hat and his own tent.

I organised my part of the show ready for the following day, declined the kind offer from one of the large lady camp followers in her low cut calico dress, to join in the soldier’s supper of tripe and onions, and scuttled off to my hotel for dinner.

Up early the following day I organised my staff and went for a walk along the cliffs.  I stood for a while watching the re-enactors marching their drill.  I learned later that this particular regiment being put through their paces were supposed to be the German Brunswick Corps under Lieutenant General Prince Freidrich, Duke of Brunswick.

I then saw the Duke of Wellington, sitting on the grass leaning with his back against the Martello Tower.  He was in full military dress, his horse was tethered nearby eating grass and the Duke was studying a Filofax while puffing a clay churchwarden pipe.  My first mistake was to say “Good Morning Graham” obviously I ought to have addressed him as Your Grace or Sir or something equally grovelling.

I certainly shouldn’t have pointed to the poor sods sweating as they marched up the hill and then marched down again and said you’ve picked yourself a much better part than the poor bloody infantry.

His Grace cut me dead and snapped “You will excuse me Jake but I am contemplating the forthcoming battle”.

I made my excuses and left without spoiling it for him by telling the twit that Wellington won the battle.  If I’d been an Elf ‘n Safety I would have cancelled his ruddy pantomime too!

You couldn’t make it up!

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Fastnet your safety belts

This is another tale from my memory bank.  I’m not sure if today’s blog falls into the category of another of my sailor’s yarns or one of my lifetime memories of “What the heck am I doing here?”, I do know that I keep finding myself in the same fixes, whether I am at sea or on the mountain, all of my life.

It was Cowes week, thirty three years ago and I had signed on as navigator on a 37 foot yacht, taking part in the legendary Fastnet race.  The competition was a huge flotilla, there were 303 yachts taking part in the 608 mile jewel of offshore racing from the Solent, along the south coast to Cornwall and out into open sea towards the Fastnet lighthouse, Ireland’s most Southerly point.  Ted Heath’s yacht ‘Morning Cloud was amongst the entrants.   We left the Solent in August 1979 heading on the 600 mile course.  Our 37 foot sloop was one of the smallest taking part.   The wind was blowing hard and we were making good time.

The shipping forecast predicted winds of Force 8, nothing for a seasoned, well trained crew of six hard men like us.  Conditions were near perfect for fast ocean racing and we were all in good spirits.  We then heard a later forecast giving us winds of Force 10 and more, and the seas were getting up.  The sunset was a weird mixture of colours a strange, spectacular ochre sky and we could all feel a strange pressure; the sea was being pressed down.  Fortunately my seaman’s instinct kicked in and I managed the talk the Owner/Skipper into deviating slightly into the Western Approaches to get some sea room.  A storm of an unimaginable force got up, one of such power that it brought to mind a seismic sea that I had been caught in on a cargo boat, when I was a youngster in the seas off Japan.  I thought that I was about to die on that occasion too.

Our radio was going mad with distress calls as vessels were scattered in the storm’s path like so much flotsam.  One after another, boats sank or capsized as the storm raged unabated.  The seas got up so big, they appeared to be like sixty feet high cliffs above our mast.  We were making some six knots under bare poles and rolling violently as the seas broke in all directions.  The noise was deafening like an on-coming steam train . . . . . . . here we go again…….What the #@&* am I doing here? . . . . . We thought that we had weathered the worst as dawn broke, when there was what sounded like an explosion and our steering gear gave way.  I looked over the stern and saw our rudder disappearing in the direction of Finistere.

The radio continued though the night, with hundreds of distress calls.  Fellow competitors were overturned, dismasted, sinking, – crews in life rafts.  We realised that we were going to have to be responsible for our own survival.  After a quick ‘Chinese Parliament’ we turned for the Welsh coast after hoisting a storm jib, picked up our skirts and ran before the wind like a scalded cat.  Steering with the Jib sail, thank God we had made the right decision.  There are no heathens in a lifeboat . . . . . All we had to do was pray and keep pumping the bilges.  We scuttled into Milford Haven where we were thankfully met by the Harbour Master and safely berthed.

Listening to the distress channel we couldn’t believe just how lucky we had been. Apparently during the worst of the storm the barometer plunged to the second lowest reading around the British Isles in 150 years.  The 1979 Fastnet was the worst disaster in offshore racing history, with 15 competitors dying along with six other yachtsmen who were not taking part in the race.  Only 83 boats out of the 303 fleet made it back to the Solent.

Our ‘butcher’s bill for the voyage apart from damage to the yacht was light by comparison.  A broken collarbone, a broken finger and a broken thumb.  I whacked my nose on the hatch combing.  When we had tied up safely, the Owner/Skipper moaned at me for dripping blood from my nose all over his charts.  Our hysterical laughter must have confirmed to the concerned onlookers that the whole crew were completely mad.  I confirmed this to myself when less than a year later I found myself skippering another yacht, clawing ourselves off Le Casquettes Rocks in a Force 9 gale thinking . . . .”What the #@&* am I doing here?”……..  The worst of it is thirty three years on, I still keep doing it.



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Oh Wa Ta Na SIAM! The ‘land of smiles’  

Travel writers are rather like politicians although they don’t lie quite as often!  However they both write to please their paymasters.  Every once in a while a politician, usually once he has retired or has lost his seat, will publish a book that professes to open Pandora’s Box and tell the truth.  Unfortunately the new revelations are usually more about selling the book.  Well I’m not selling a book but I did write myself a lot of notes while I travelled and now I have no paymaster and have relinquished some of the flowery language that were used to sell magazines.  I feel I gave my editors value for money but now my blogs are the unvarnished truth, honest Guv!

Being honest I don’t really like Thailand, the humidity has always got to me, it’s either pouring with rain or the air is full of hot damp air, and no I didn’t only go in the rainy season.  When I was at school Thailand was known as Siam, as in the King and I.  It was changed for internal nationalistic reasons.  Thailand means ‘The Land of the Free’ and reflects the fact that it is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonised.  It is a Kingdom and is bordered by Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar (Burma, but that’s another story).

I’ve been to Thailand on a number of occasions and each time that I manage to return home it has always been with a sense of relief that I got our alive.  Whenever I travel I always do a great deal of research and you have the take your Panama hat off to Thailand, there are so many different ways it can kill you.  There’s all the obvious Southeast Asia stuff like Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and of course Bird Flu.  A lot of scaremongering goes on about bird flu coming to Britain but I reckon you are more likely to fall foul (fowl, get it?) of the dreadful H5N1 (bird flu), if you holiday in a country where chickens are kept in the lounge.

Where Thailand really punches above its weight is when it comes to man-made deaths.  What a glorious array of people there are to be murdered by! Sex-crazed fishermen, jealous fellow backpackers, homicidal drifters, the pissed-off landlords of hostels, trigger happy policemen and malevolent cell-mates in the prison you may find yourself in following your doomed attempt at drug smuggling, think the Bangkok Hilton.

Over the past 25 years the number of attacks, murders, rapes and robberies against tourists is running into many thousands.  It appears that the type of person, who is attracted to the dreamy paradise of palm-fringed beaches and cocktails, is exactly the type to drop their guard in the presence of devious and psychopathic locals. It is also clear, since the devastating attacks in 2015, that tourists in the warm streets of Bangkok are now the target of murderous attack from terrorists

There is no doubt that the reputation of Thailand as a welcoming country with a tourist boom since the 1960s has created hatred and contempt for foreigners and a murderous indifference among many locals, to the millions of tourists who flock to the country’s white sand beaches, picturesque countryside and thriving nightlife each year. If we add to this widespread police corruption, violence and crime which are all blighting this country, once known as the ‘Land of Smiles’.  The country’s much prized tourist industry which accounts for 10 percent of the GDP, is in decay following more than more than 12 moths of political unrest, for as well as the murder of two British backpackers in mid-September, there was a bloody military coup earlier this year.

Leaving aside the number of tourist murders, many which go unreported, Visitors to Thailand are not warned by travel agents, airlines or their own governments that their passports are highly prized in Thailand. Depending on the nationality, a passport can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market, several months’ pay for many Thais.  There are gangs stealing passports to order. European, American, Australian and Canadian passports are particularly prized.  There is an established practice across the country of bike, car, jet-ski and other rental services requiring passports as collateral. When punters return to claim their documents, they have disappeared.

The daily robbing, bashing, drugging, extortion and murder of foreign tourists on Thai soil, along with numerous scandals involving unsafe facilities and well established scams, has led to frequent predictions that Thailand’s multi-billion dollar tourist industry will self-destruct, if we add to all of this the fact that the much revered King of Thailand died at the beginning of this month.  Not only is the whole country in mourning there is also much speculation and unrest as to who is to replace him, I think I will find another country where I can ride a motorcycle without wearing a crash helmet.

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