MY MAIDEN VOYAGE – ALL AT SEA

The reason why

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 Korea, Mexico and the Americas, China,  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.

It started with a Blog

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.

Doesn’t everyone have a Sponsor?

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.

A square peg in a square hole

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.

Forgive me Father I have sinned, again!

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.

Itchy feet!

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 SS 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.

Introducing the crew

The ship’s captain was Harold Collins, a small insignificant looking man, who had survived several Murmansk runs and, 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 world 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 Able Seaman, named Janek, who was heavily tanned and possessed a full set of stainless steel teeth (think Jaws from 007) 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 lot, 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 even less than the Stornorwegians, well that’s what they called themselves, if that is they ever deigned to speak to you.

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. 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 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...

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 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.

The Sunshine State – Volunteers, you, you in fact all of you!

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.  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 Incheon and set about unloading out cargo, tout de suite!

Now I know the true meaning of Bricking it!

Meanwhile the US 7th Fleet lay offshore and were shelling the forest above the docks where we, me were cringing, 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 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.

Attention on the Upper Deck, Face Aft and salute!

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 an exotic location with the entrance some ten miles along a river that appeared to be lined with 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.

We know them as ‘Pig’s Orphans I think the US call them A’holes

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 me, the Second and Third mates set off to enjoy ourselves, 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 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 dressed other than a bright red baseball cap, I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone wearing one 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 your pockets.

We wus robbed!

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, 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 most 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 holds 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 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. . . . . . . . ..

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.  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 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 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 a tee 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 out to open the door for me – Oh God the things I must 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 (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 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.  A 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 others from the black gang disappeared during the night together with all their belongings.  A 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 repeat 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.  An 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 done.  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 sides.  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 occupants 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 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 calling GKA.  I answered and gave our position.  – Change of 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’

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amethysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

 

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Our next instruction directed us to the Welsh port of Milford Haven to re-fuel and where we would meet up with another ship belonging to our owners that had put in for major repairs and we would take on several volunteers to replace our depleted crew.  (Our owners have only our interests at heart)!  I was involved with the refuelling and the Skipper left to confer with the other ships captain.  My innocent mind was thinking, ‘What an opportunity to clear out the dead wood’.  The Skipper returned with five deck crew and six engine room crew.

A short while later Gilbert Buttery came running up to tell me that one of the new volunteers was a cabin boy, so he wouldn’t be The Peggy any longer and the Skipper had put him in charge of sorting out the sleeping arrangements of the new men.

I disappeared to the chart room to be ready to head for the Suez Canal and we set sail a couple of hours later.  Everyone was so busy getting settled in, that it was as though we were an all new crew and when I took over my watch I found that I had a new helmsman, a very experienced able seaman of about 40 named Roger Woolf a Scouser, hereto known as Wolfie.  When we took over the morning watch at 0600 hrs we had turned in to the Gulf of Oman.  I set our course for the Persian Gulf and onwards to our destination Abadan in Persia, which now is known as Iran.  I finished my watch and after a get to know chat with the two quartermasters, the newbie, Wolfie and the old hand, Glaswegian Jonno, who also explained our ship jumpers that we abandoned in Australia while I made a pot of tea.  I could see us bonding into a good team.  Our watch had been relieved by the 2nd Mate and after I’d had my lunch, a shower and a change of clothing I returned to the bridge to watch us passing Qatar and Bahrain on our Port side.  I was wearing my white uniform and a white cap to keep the sun off as I leaned on the Flying bridge.  –  I was watching the sun sparkling on the white wave tops and it seemed to get whiter.  I seemed to have nodded off and when I awoke everything was still pristine white.  I was lying on a white bed with white sheets and a white counterpane.  The room walls were white, the furniture was white and once my eyes focused I saw a beautiful girl face with gleaming white teeth smiling at me and I closed my eyes.  I was woken by a grumpy but very familiar voice of Hamish the 2nd Mate saying “Have ye no has enough kip you crafty bastard?”.  I learned that I had collapsed with severe sunstroke and was now residing as a guest of the Shah, in his showpiece Hospital in Abadan.

Our ship was being unloaded and cleaned and would then be taking on a full load of porcelain bathroom pieces and we would be leaving for Shanghai in China in five days’ time.  The message from the Skipper was that my stay was all expenses paid by our host His Highness Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Persia and it would be rude of me to look a gift horse in the mouth.  He looked forward to my presence back on board in four days’ time to prepare for the next leg.  That was the gist of the message but with the addition of a few Scot’s witticisms and threats from Hamish.  Oddly enough he spent a lot of time with the pretty nurses eating, drinking and otherwise partaking of the Shah’s luxury. He visited me every day but spent little time with me other than to enquire after my health.  –  I dutifully followed orders to the letter and returned to the ship wearing my neatly washed and pressed uniform, clutching a ‘goodie’ bag that contained a new bright blue silk dressing gown, matching blue silk pyjamas, silk covered slippers and a monogrammed toilet bag full of top-quality shaving gear including an ivory handled cutthroat razor.  I also left with lots of hugs and kisses from several nurses.  I have no idea why sailors call sunstroke ‘the Abadan Blues’ but it was very luxurious’.  As the Skipper reminded me it is a chargeable offence in the Royal Navy.  I managed to stop my smart mouth from saying that mine was free of charge.

Back to earth with a bump as the Pilot guided us out past the biggest oil refinery in the world and out into the Gulf.  I had already spent the previous day preparing our charts and I took over the Conn from the Skipper and the Pilot.  Yesterday I had also had a stroll around the holds to look at this wondrous cargo.  –  Various assorted bath tubs that looked very regal with roll tops and Victorian legs, toilets, hand basins and even bidets.  I was picturing hordes of Chinese peasants, scratching their heads, wondering at the purpose of this unfamiliar gear.  The phrase ‘China to China’ stuck in my head like an earworm and I started to giggle.  It became an oft repeated phrase on that voyage.

I took us through the Straits of Hormuz and was relieved by the 3rd Mate, still as bellicose and antagonistic as ever.  Surely, he can’t still be pissed at me over not getting a Korean medal.  I asked if he were feeling OK because he did look rough and he muttered about having a pain in his gut.  Me being me just had to say that he should have gone sick in Abadan when I did and mentioned the luxury of the hospital and the lovely nurses and the fantastic goody bag that they sent me home with.  Well that went down well! I don’t think I’ll tell him my joke about ‘China to China’.  Fuck him! When I next came on watch, I took over from the 1st Mate and he told me that the 3rd Mate’s bellyache had worsened, and he had been in touch with the British Embassy in Ceylon to arrange for an ambulance to meet us in Colombo.  I was to set the fastest course.  Hadn’t I said he should have gone sick in Abadan?  The engine room and the old ship did us proud, together with my brilliant navigation, we steamed into Colombo Harbour and were met by the Pilot boat together with the Pilot, a Doctor and what today we call Paramedics.  The Quack diagnosed the 3rd’s ulcer as a severe burst appendix.  The Embassy had arranged for the patient to go into the local Royal Air Force Base, hospital.

The Skipper and Hamish accompanied the sick man to hospital and returned late in the evening to tell us that we were lucky that he hadn’t died on us and that he wouldn’t be returning – The Embassy would be arranging his repatriation once he was well!  Hamish opined that he bet it would be on an R.A.F. plane as that would be the cheapest.  This smart mouth just had to say, “I bet he doesn’t get a Goody bag”.  The Skipper then said “Hamish and I have been talking things over and he has nearly convinced me to make you up to 3rd Mate.  I say nearly because I’m going to put down a proviso on your promotion.  I’ll go along with it if you promise to button your lip, you are nowhere near as clever as you think you are, keep your opinions to yourself.  You don’t always have to have the last word – Promise?”  When he left Hamish said “You do come across as a bit arrogant sometime, but I convinced the old man that you were covering up nervousness.  Don’t let me down”.

The next morning, I went to clear the Third’s cabin and packed all his belongings into two cases, with the help of Gilbert Buttery and dispatched him in a taxi to deliver them to the British Embassy, I told his that if he didn’t come straight back we might sail without him and he would probably be repatriated with the ex-3rd Mate.  (Note to self – Also I must stop teasing Gilbert) Having cleaned out my predecessor’s belongings I proceeded to make it my cabin.  Gilbert returned post haste and had obviously been giving things a lot of thought.  –  The first thing he asked was could he join my watch as a runner because he wanted to learn how to steer the ship.  I told him that we would be returning to a three-watch system and my watch would be permanently nights, 2200 hrs to 0600 hrs.  The crafty little devil said, “I don’t mind that at all Third!” The 1st Mate and Hamish were more than happy to leave most of the chart work to me. – My two helmsmen were more than happy to let Gilbert take the lion’s share of their work and make the tea.  He was keen to also learn how to use a sextant, name the stars etc. So, all in all we were a happy ship.

In fact, the fey little boy Gilbert Buttery from Plumstead no longer existed.  During the chatter I suggested that my predecessor hadn’t liked me because I got the Korean medals and he didn’t, Gilbert put me straight.  He told me that a long while before that when you were robbed in Georgetown he heard that you had robbed of a nearly new Rolex watch that had been a gift for when you joined your first ship. He went off on one and was ranting about only a posh twat like you would have a daddy to give him a Rolex. Don’t hold back Gilbert!  He went on “Then when you got those medals and he didn’t he went apeshit.  He reckoned your daddy had bribed the Skipper to get you aboard” I didn’t enlighten him, in fact I made a vow that I would never pass on any of my personal information, ever.  Gilbert was then earmarked as my personal informant ad as he had named himself as my runner I re-named him Gunga Din.  I’ll also make certain that he’s not a better man than I am!  A few days later Gunga Din told me that a lot of the crew reckoned that the ex-3rd had cleared immigration in San Pedro in front of me and he had set me up for special questioning by one HERR HOSTETTER.  That bastard I hope that the RAF makes him parachute back into Wales and forget to show him where the ripcord is.  Not that I don’t wish him a full recovery!  Anyway, I got his medals, was treated like a king in the finest hospital in the world and a Goody bag.  I also got his job and his cabin so sod him!

Our course took us between the Malaysian Peninsular and Sumatra and I received a visit from the jovial 2nd Engineer who appeared to run the engine room.  I knew it was serious because he had donned a shirt for his visit.  He told me that the Skipper had said that I was the man to see. – God I must get myself a bigger cap!  Apparently on our ‘blues and twos’ run to save the life of my predecessor (SPIT) we had put a lot of strain on both boilers and we were a long way from home.  If I could reduce speed by a few knots and plot a course accordingly the old girl would appreciate it and he would stand me a large drink on our next shore run.  I told him that we were stopping over in Hong Kong for a couple of days – He blew me a kiss and left for his underground lair, removing his shirt as he went.  I carried out the necessary course adjustments and unbelievably it added nearly 5 days to our journey.  We all felt that we had nearly stopped and going through the South China Sea the wind had also dropped to a sea of glass.

 Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion.  As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.

We arrived at Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong and were berthed for refuelling.  Even in the 1950s it was a stunning place and I’ve returned a few times since.  Only a few 100 yards away from the ship I found a tailor who instead of taking my ‘Snotty tabs off my lapels and fitting my 3rd Mate gold rings, he would make me a complete new uniform complete with two pairs of trousers and deliver it to the ship in less than 24 hours.

He convinced me that he was the world’s best tailor and was a fantastic salesman because I also ordered two civilian suits in the finest material a mixture of wool and cashmere, one in fawn and the other in navy blue.  I picked the style from that current year’s Gieves and Hawkes of 1 Savile Row, Mayfair, catalogue.  I had no real idea of the currency rate of exchange was but when I offered to pay in US Dollars I learned how the Chinese Kow Tow was performed.  My total bill was $32 US or £24 GBP.

If my predecessor had known that my sponsor, not my daddy, had also given me an envelope with $50 US in it before I left he would have had a relapse!  I believe that the tailor put his workforce on all three floors of his building to work and I took delivery of my 32 bucks worth of tailoring the next afternoon.  It was in three separate suit bags on hangers each bearing a Gieves and Hawkes of 1 Savile Row London label and when I opened the uniform, not only were there two pairs of trousers but they had included a Mess Undress (evening dress uniform) jacket plus a black silk cummerbund.  I would wager that you only thought that fashion house copying became rife when the Millennials were born.  Well this Ancient Mariner was in at the beginning. Moreover, I believe that Gieves and Hawkes could not have identified mine as being moody.  Would it be remiss of me to suggest that we both used the same tailors, hence the catalogues and official labels?

Another discussion with the 2nd Engineer over dinner regarding our speed for the next leg to Shanghai.  We decided to increase our maximum speed to 10 knots and I altered our course and speed accordingly – the distance was something like 900 nautical miles so a nice smooth cruise of around 10 hours.  It took us nearer to 12 so I was able to sleep on in my bunk that night safely berthed in the beautiful city of Shanghai with its lovely British Georgian style architecture – suddenly ‘China to China’ made complete sense.  The beautiful Persian porcelain including the bidets were made with those lovely buildings in mind.  I wonder what Chairman Mao Zedong would have made of them?

We left Shanghai with a general cargo bound for the port of Yokkaichi in Japan, as I was studying the chart I saw that the nearby port was called Fukui, now that could have been interesting!  We docked alongside in Yokkaichi, a large, very busy harbour.  We were quite astonished at these Dockers who worked at a great pace and we discovered that their average pay was less than a £1 per day.  The exchange rate was 100 Yen to £1 and the hourly rate for a dock worker 90 Yen for a 10-hour day.  (Perhaps I should have waited to get some new clothes here.)  One of my lasting memories was buying a fine porcelain tea set, the sort that when you held a cup up to the light a picture of a geisha girl could be seen.  The set was boxed up and shipped to my mother in England.  The cost including packing and shipping was the equivalent of 15 shillings.  It arrived in perfect condition.

At that time, I really had a chip on my shoulder about the ‘Japs’. – My Uncle Jack had been taken prisoner in Singapore when it fell.  At that time, he had been an Army champion boxer at some 14 stone. – He had been put to work by the Japanese on the Death Railway in Burma.  I was 11 years old when he was repatriated, and he was a skeleton weighing just over 5 stone.  He never did recover his health or fitness.  The country in 1954 was still occupied by the Australian army and they had no love for the native population either.  Unloading the ship by hand was very slow and after some 3 or 4 days we received a severe weather warning of a tidal wave centring on our very location.  This is what is now commonly known as a Tsunami, a term that I had never heard of.  I felt thankful that we were safe in harbour!  The Skipper called a Chinese parliament (in Japan?) and then overruled all opposition and we took the ship out of the cosy harbour to ride out the storm.  Oh my God did we take a pasting.  There were a lot of moans and groans from the crew and I must say that I thought the Skipper had lost the plot.  Within five hours we found that we were keeping just enough headway to keep our bow, head on to the cyclone and the approaching tidal wave.  Everything was battened down, and our little ship met the first of the waves which appeared to be travelling some 40 or 59 feet above us as we climbed up it and as we went over the top the screws came out of the water and nearly shook the fillings out of our teeth.  Thank God the old girl had a welded hull because rivets would have shaken loose.   We had a pendulum, the piece of kit that was known as an inclinometer that recorded the roll of the ship.  As we screamed down the back of the wave like a toboggan down a ski slope, we had two helmsmen plus Gilbert (Gunga Din) fighting with the wheel to keep on course.  As we hit the bottom of the slope we crashed down, and our port lifeboat was knocked out of its davits and was hanging by its forward falls.  I saw the Bosun and several men lashing the boat in to the ship’s side.  All were wearing lifelines and May West’s.  The 2nd Mate pointed out another wave approaching from the horizon about 5 miles away.  I rang down to the engine room to warn them, while the Skipper was telling the Bosun that another wave was on its way and to make his men secure inside.  It seemed like an hour before the Mother of all Seismic Waves hit us and it was higher than the first. – This time we seemed to climb it in slow motion.  Hamish shook my hand hugged me and said “Well it’s been nice knowing you Lofty” I knew then what those poor guys fighting in the trenches in WWI felt like when they went over the top!  I’ve repeated this story many times and no-one believes that I wasn’t scared but honestly, we had so much to do and were all so busy that we didn’t have time to be frightened.  I was thankful that I wasn’t in the engine room.  The same performance as the first wave saw us over the top and hurtling down, as we hit bottom the crash seemed even louder and this time the starboard lifeboat was stove in with more of the deck crew trying to lash in to the side.  We had reached the centre of the cyclone and the sea settled down and there was SILENCE!  We lowered our revs and just kept way on.  I checked the Inclinometer and we had registered a 38 degree roll each way, when I showed it to the Skipper he said that we should have rolled right over and thought we were going to be OK now but that was a bit hairy for a minute!  Hamish said, “That was some minute, we were going through that shit for nearly four hours!”

We spent the night cruising in the eye of the storm planning to return to Yokkaichi all being well at first light.  We got little information over the radio that was in English, normally the international language of the sea.  We crept back into the harbour, there was no pilot boat to meet us and as we looked around us it was just devastation.  All the orange dockyard cranes had been knocked over and lay buckled on their sides and partly underwater.  We estimated that 3 or 4 dozen ships had remained in harbour and every single one had sunk.  The water was deep and most of the wrecks only had a bit of superstructure showing and some just some rigging.  At that moment Harold Collins our diminutive little Skipper had so much praise and congratulations heaped upon him that he probably could have walked on water across the harbour we learned that the Tsunami death toll was around 400 souls.  We tied up safely and spent the next couple of days sorting ourselves out.  Our change of plans took us just a short hop to the port of Yokohama the port of Tokyo.  Our cargo was to be unloaded and arrangements were made for Shipwrights to come on board to assess the damage to the lifeboats and they would be repaired or replaced.  It looked as though we could be in for a longish stay in Yokohama.  We had a visit from a Tokyo TV Station, I took the call from our embassy in Tokyo and Hamish and I left our brave captain to explain his brilliant seamanship.  I told Gilbert to make himself available as a runner for the Skipper during the interview and left him bricking it in case he had to speak on TV.  Hamish and I went ashore for the day although he teased me that as I was the only one with a decent uniform I should have jumped at the chance to show it off.  Will I ever live down my posh clothes?  Once ashore we chatted to an Aussie Soldier who told us that he and some fellow soldiers had arranged a coach trip in a few days to visit Hiroshima where the Yanks had dropped the first atom bomb and eventually caused the Japanese to surrender.  We arranged to take 6 spare seats and they would call for us at the ship.  Hamish said, “Christ you really know how to live the life.”  I was thinking of my five stone living skeleton, Uncle Jack and the Death Railway when he was a slave prisoner. I jumped at the chance to view the spot where our allies had kicked the butts of the ‘yellow devils’ so I was feeling quite gung ho visiting as a tourist.

As it happened only the two of us plus the skipper took up the offer of the free trip. Our new Aussie buddies arrived on time in a military coach with an Aussie driver.  They were a noisy lot and very anti Jap, they even embarrassed me with some of the abuse they shouted out as we passed some of the native Japanese.  The noisy journey took several hours.  The countryside looked not unlike our green and pleasant land.  We piled off the bus and I saw . . . . . . . . ..

The sound of silence  I saw a flattened city covered in dirty white dust; I saw the shapes of human shadows burned as a negative flash and left for eternity on one of the few walls left standing; Utter, utter devastation!  No-one spoke on the bus coming home and the journey seemed to take forever from the spot where some 70,000 souls had been taught a lesson in my name.  Where a further 100,000 died over the following five years from the effects of that terrible bomb.

I awoke the following morning after a troubled sleep to find that I had developed a high temperature and a sore throat compounded by a cold sore on my upper lip.  I was convinced the I had radiation poisoning.  I hadn’t of course but I was just seventeen and I had learned one of life’s lessons Man’s inhumanity to man!

One of the bonuses of the Tsunami was that it delayed us and gave me time to get to know the country.  I managed to climb Mount Fuji and see the snow-covered apes bathing in the volcanic heated streams. There is a Japanese proverb about climbing Mount Fuji “He who climbs Mt Fuji is a wise man; He who climbs it twice is a fool.”  Well in my long life I have climbed it three times and it gave me a lifelong love of the mountains.  It also makes me very old!

When I chatted to the Skipper about the sheer cost of the delay and the damage to both lifeboats and the theft of the paint in Cairns I was told not to worry, Lloyd’s have got our backs. The paint has already been replaced, I’ve seen the lifeboats and they’re like new and will be ready and in place by next week.  The Bosun was happy with the layover because his ship was painted scrubbed and the superstructure gleamed – it must be the newest looking Fort Ship in the world.  The engine room had time to change the oil and clean the points and give it a new MOT or whatever needed doing.  I later heard that the deck crew had had professional assistance from a few locals with a lot of the painting – they had a whip round on the mess deck to pay them.  I hope that they paid them more than 90 Yen a day.  The local agent had also been earning his corn and our cargo was diverted to the port of Niigata and we were to be loaded with Phosphate fertiliser bound for Mexico.  Phosphate? And I moaned about Sugar!

Once in Niigata City our loading and unloading took about ten days, can you picture coolies dressed only in loincloths and a conical straw hat that looked like a lamp-shade, carrying wicker baskets from a huge barge moored alongside and the coolies running up a plank from the front of the barge with the basket full of phosphate – it looks like pink gravel, and tipping the basket into one of the holds.  More coolies were in the holds shovelling so that it filled all available spaces.  Meanwhile the coolie that had emptied his basket now running to another plank and running down it into the barge to continue the chain.  This went on non-stop night and day; I called them coolies, but they were more like slaves.  Another odd thing I noticed that more than 60% of them wore thick black framed spectacles.  I can picture the scene vividly even today.

Another memory from Niigata City was an evening run ashore.  Hamish and I were joined by Wolfie the new helmsman who had a very entertaining Scouse sense of humour and my shadow Gunga Din.  We visited several bars and night clubs where we experienced the novelty of being served warm Sake the Japanese rice wine by Geisha girls with white painted faces.  I said something like “So that’s where our white paint went to and Gilbert began giggling so much that it became embarrassing and we eventually left.  We weren’t staggering on our way back to our ship, perhaps slightly unsteady is a better description.  We hadn’t gone a hundred yards when we were confronted by four lovely ladies of the night, dressed to the nines in very tight silk cheongsam dresses slit to the thigh. We were offered a really good time, try out bath house and happy finish.  Wolfie said “Oh dear ladies we have spent all our money, that’s why we are walking back to the ship.  He then handed them Gilbert’s arm and said, “He’s the only one with any money left”.  He then, like a conjurer, palmed a $20-dollar bill and showed them it in Gilbert’s top pocket.  We all walked away giggling, nothing to do with the Sake consumed it was Gilbert shouting “Please don’t leave me boys!” as the girls dragged him away.  –  Oh, dear it was so funny!  I wish you could have seen Gilbert’s face when he returned to the ship quite late the next morning and Hamish collared him.  He was red faced but had a huge grin on his chops that had to be seen… Talk about a dog with two dicks!

We had a straightforward and uneventful voyage to our next port of call which was called Mazatlán in Mexico.  (Nothing to do with the clothes shop of a similar name.) The place was just like a scene from early western lots of raised sidewalks, men in sombreros and gaudy shirts in yellow and red colours taking a siesta in the afternoon sun, sitting on the ground with their backs against the walls for what shade there was.  The Mexican food is not really my favourite fare in modern times but then it was not great.  The tequila was fantastic and the local beer they named Sol was fantastic.  I chatted to an American tourist in a bar, as one does, and he told me not to miss an experience that he’d been on.  A journey in a genuine stage coach that the locals took regularly across the desert towards Durango to a daily market in a town halfway to Durango.  I followed his advice the next day early in the morning I went into town and found the coaching station and with my only Spanish at that time being quanta costa and cerveza I haggled a return ticket to the town whose name I’ve since forgotten, but its half way to Durango.  I got them to write the details on a piece of card.

When this huge stage coach pulled by two scruffy horses, it was just as my American friend had described – the large coach had plenty of room to seat 10 or even 12 people inside and was slung on leather straps fixed to metal springs fore and aft.  I judged the back wheels to be some seven feet in diameter and the front ones five feet,  There was a driver and sitting upfront alongside him was his sidekick, I don’t suppose one would call him the conductor because he was actually carrying a short rifle that looked to me like a Winchester 73, I’ve seen the films I promise you that this wasn’t a film set, it was completely genuine. You couldn’t call up the choking dust and the smells.  I only had four fellow passengers, all women, all dressed from head to toe in black, reminding me of black vultures.  Ever the English gentleman I took their luggage consisting of hessian bags and large empty wooden cages and helped to hoist it up to the shotgun conductor who stacked it on the large luggage space on the roof.  I joined the ladies inside.  They were chatting happily among themselves and even tried to include me.  I realised that I had learned even more Spanish from my visits to the cinema as a kid.  One of the women opened a shopping bag and handed out spicy vegetable wraps (tortillas) to everyone including me, it was far better than my restaurant food of yesterday.  It’s difficult to describe the experience of my coach ride across the desert.  We were travelling at a fair lick – there was lots of dust, genuine tumbleweed, and cacti.  I think the horses kept farting unless it was the driver and the noise of creaking springs, rumbling wheels, shouts from the driver and his shotgun, – the laughing and chattering of my new found girlfriends. You really had to be there.

When we roared into the town and stopped in the square, I helped the two men get down the lady’s bags, boxes and bird cages from the roof.  I then discovered the shotgun guy spoke good American/English and he told me that they were carrying on to Durango and would be back to pick us up at the market square in about 4 hours.  I helped the ladies stack their baggage behind one of the stalls and I insisted they accompany me to a nearby outside cafe for coffee and cakes.

Unbelievably we were entertained by a Mariachi band.  My lady friends were all aged between 30 and 40 and not at all bad looking except that three of them had moustaches.  I assume that the fact they were dressed in black indicated that they were married.  Nonetheless we all enjoyed flirting and I had some difficulty convincing them that I didn’t want their company around town.  I promised to see them later at the same cafe to wait for the stage, Whip Crack Away!  As I wandered around I was very tempted to buy a big black sombrero with crystal jewels as a gift for the Bosun but somehow, I didn’t think he would take it as a peace offering.

When the stage arrived with its usual hustle and bustle there were four guys sitting on the roof rack and one new lady inside.  My girlfriends now had 3 chickens in cages and their boxes and bags were full.  The ladies insisted that I accompany them inside together with all their luggage.  Very cosy return journey and I had a hand on both of my knees and they weren’t my hands.  I provided the picnic and when we arrived in Mazatlán we parted good friends.  Two of them were met by husbands in pickup trucks and all the chickens and luggage were piled into them.  The other two ladies were being collected later from a friend’s house and both gave me a lovely kiss and a hug.

The local agent visited us the next day, the fertiliser had been removed and the holds cleaned.  After having seen the poor local soil I could understand the need for so much fertilizer.  Our cargo was to be our most valuable the old ship had ever carried.  A large amount of Mexican silver, coffee beans and raw cotton.  The biggest amount taking up four of our holds was in silver items and our destination was London, England.  This leg was going to be a very straightforward trip I’ve heard that before!  Back through the Panama Canal to complete our second circumnavigation of the world.  Then across the Atlantic, Simples!  We were towed through the Panama Canal, yet another mind-blowing experience through the rain forest that was teeming with wild life.  I had a Macaw swoop on to the wing of the bridge and settle on my shoulder and I fed a wild boar by tossing potatoes to it.  The 2nd Engineer fixed with the Skipper for us to anchor off Panama City once we cleared the Canal, for them to carry out further repairs.  It appears that our suspect boiler had blown again.  The only good thing was that we were treated to the most amazing electrical storm over Panama City.

I can say no more other than that I had to alter my previous plot, considering we would be completing a 5,000 miles journey at an average of 4 to 5 knots – can you imagine 54 that’s fifty-four days at sea covering less than 100 miles in 24 hours.  It did not make for a happy ship and I will not bore you with the journey and by the time we turned into the Thames Estuary we weren’t even excited by the fact that we would be paying off shortly, and then just into the Estuary the bloody radio piped up Portishead Radio to Temple Bar . . ..  no-one gave it a thought that we were in no fettle to go around the world again.  I heard later that one of the Deck Crew picked up his pride and joy a Hallicrafter Worldwide Radio and smashed it against a bulkhead in temper.  Anyway, someone in their wisdom decided that we should be diverted even in our sick state to pay off in the lovely city of Kingston upon bloody Hull.  So, another two days to try to lift our spirits.  A sad goodbye, all shipmates had been through a lot together.  I later learned the wisdom of our diversion being that the raw cotton was destined for the cotton mills of Lancashire and the fine Mexican Silver to Liberty’s Department Store in Manchester.  Ruddy bean counters, was it ever thus?  Those extra miles could have finished the Temple Bar for good.

Skipper Collins and my good friend Hamish Orr were both going to swallow the anchor, and both presented me with brilliant reference for my next ship.  We wished each other “Fair winds and a following sea” the sailor’s farewell, much nicer that a soldier’s farewell of “Goodbye and bugger you” I think you’ll agree!

Boy to man without realising

I checked train times and decided to book in at an Hotel near the railway station and booked a first class seat to London the next day.  I dressed in my finery, my navy blue wool and cashmere suit and carried my Louis Vuitton suitcase.  Quite sad that I had completed my maiden voyage and gone from boy to man without realising.  I had a sudden awakening when I arrived home in my Buckingham shire village of Woburn Sands and my mother’s first words were “Oh hello dear, when are you going back?”  I met my sponsor, Herbert. at least he was pleased to see me.  I regaled him of my stories and he asked for the name and address of my tailor in Hong Kong and he did business later with him. I went to meet my friends in my Savile Row peacock clothes and found that they were all dressed in drape suits and brothel creepers with DA haircuts.  I had completely missed the Teddy boy era.  One of the girls in my old gang said, “I love your tan, but you really look like a Posh Twat!” Now where have I heard that before?

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.  And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.  But that’s another story!  . . . . .

May I wish you all Fair Winds and a Following Sea!

 

 

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The Young Man Of The Sea – Half a Dinari for my Life Story

Red Ensign – White Ensign

The Young Man of the Sea

with apologies to Ernest Hemmingway

Throughout Hemingway’s career as a writer, he maintained that it was bad luck to talk about writing: that it takes off! whatever butterflies have on their wings. Well I talk about my writing by way of my blogging website and on the whole, I’ve had a very lucky, long life. So, for all his skill and masterly writing, he wasn’t always right.

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. At my last count I have visited 74 different countries. 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-pixelate 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 started 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. ……..

My Pa joined the Royal Flying Corps as a boy nearly at the end of the first World War and continued a career in the RAF with a couple of breaks until he retired at the end of World War II. I suppose you could call me an airforce brat. But there was no way that I would ever have followed him. I hated the very idea. I was about eight years old in 1943 when I first fell in love. I lived in a village not far from Bletchley Park of the Enigma fame and the were literally hundreds of Royal Navy wrens working there as back up to the boffins, I assume! Most of these girls were aged 18 and upwards and of varying ranks. They were billeted at a large mansion called Wavendon House which was the next village to mine. Christmas 1943 most of the kids at my local village school, received and invitation to a party at Wavendon House and some thirty of us accepted the invite. It was there that I met Sub Lieutenant Sheila Maughan WRNS and we got on like a house on fire. I was the kid who stabled his pony in the field next to Wavendon House. Sheila was the officer in charge and before the war was a farmers daughter and had her own horses. To cut to the chase, I let her ride my pony, she gave me small gifts and quite a lot of attention. I was in love. I was going t6o be a sailor when I grew up. I vividly remember a march past along Woburn Sands High Street I can’t recall what the occasion was but at the front of the parade marching a troop of some sixty or so Wrens was Sub Lieutenant Maughan. I was standing in the High Street with a bunch of my mated some hundred yards from the cenotaph. Sheila shouted Eyes Right and saluted me and all her troop marched past me eyes right! Not only was I in love, I was joining the Navy.

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 pony 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 with the hard to row, on the Thames, 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 a genuine 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 dead-weight), 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 Scouser 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 Stornoway 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 shit, 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 Able Seaman 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 Stornoway whom spoke seldom and then only amongst themselves, several Glaswegians who chatted a lot but I couldn’t understand them, they sang a lot 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.

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 Ship man’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 fecking 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. ………. 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 buses as they hurtled into the jungle – I don’t remember any retaliatory return 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 I 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 off 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 dressed other than a bright red baseball cap, I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone wearing one 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 holds 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. ………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 conn! 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 a tee 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 out 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 a Hotel owned by her family. I returned to the ship on Monday morning like a dog with two tails, or even a dog with two dicks!

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. A 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 others from the black gang disappeared during the night together with all their belongings. A 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 bade 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 of destination, our new orders were to 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’  It is the Ancient Mariner, he stoppeth one in three

Our next instruction directed us to the Welsh port of Milford Haven to re-fuel and where we would meet up with another ship belonging to our owners that had put in for major repairs and we would take on several volunteers to replace our depleted crew. (Our owners have only our interests at heart)! I was involved with the refueling and the Skipper left to confer with the other ship’s captain. My innocent mind was thinking, ‘What an opportunity to clear out the dead wood’. The Skipper returned with five deck crew and six engine room crew. A short while later Gilbert Buttery came running up to tell me that one of the new volunteers was a cabin boy, so he wouldn’t be The Peggy any longer and the Skipper had put him in charge of sorting out the sleeping arrangements of the new men.

I disappeared to the chart room to be ready to head for the Suez Canal and we set sail a couple of hours later. Everyone was so busy getting settled in, that it was as though we were an all new crew and when I took over my watch I found that I had a new helmsman, a very experienced able seaman of about 40 named Roger Woolf, a Scouser, hereto known as Wolfie. When we took over the morning watch at 0600 hrs. we had turned in to the Gulf of Oman. I set our course for the Persian Gulf and onwards to our destination Abadan in Persia, which now is known as Iran.

I finished my watch and after a get to know chat with the two quartermasters, the newbie, Wolfie and the old hand, Glaswegian Jonno, who also explained our ship jumpers that we abandoned in Australia while I made a pot of tea. I could see us bonding into a good team. Our watch had been relieved by the 2nd Mate and after I’d had my lunch, a shower and a change of clothing I returned to the bridge to watch us passing Qatar and Bahrain on our Port side.

I was wearing my white uniform and a white cap to keep the sun off as I leaned on the Flying bridge. – I was watching the sun sparkling on the white wave tops and it seemed to get whiter. I seemed to have nodded off and when I awoke everything was still pristine white. I was lying on a white bed with white sheets and a white counterpane. The room walls were white, the furniture was white and once my eyes focused, I saw a beautiful girls face with gleaming white teeth smiling at me and I closed my eyes. I was woken by a grumpy but very familiar voice of Hamish the 2nd Mate saying “Have ye no has enough kip you crafty bastard?”. I learned that I had collapsed with severe sunstroke and was now residing as a guest of the Shah, in his showpiece Hospital in Abadan.

Our ship was being unloaded and cleaned and would then be taking on a full load of porcelain bathroom pieces and we would be leaving for Shanghai in China in five days’ time. The message from the Skipper was that my stay was all expenses paid by our host His Highness Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Persia and it would be rude of me to look a gift horse in the mouth. He looked forward to my presence back on board in four days’ time to prepare for the next leg. That was the gist of the message but with the addition of a few Scot’s witticisms and threats from Hamish. Oddly enough he spent a lot of time with the pretty nurses eating, drinking and otherwise partaking of the Shah’s luxury. He visited me every day but spent little time with me other than to enquire after my health. – I dutifully followed orders to the letter and returned to the ship wearing my neatly washed and pressed uniform, clutching a ‘goodie’ bag that contained a new bright blue silk dressing gown, matching blue silk pyjamas, silk covered slippers and a monogrammed toilet bag full of top-quality shaving gear including an ivory handled cut-throat razor. I also left with lots of hugs and kisses from several nurses. I have no idea why sailors call sunstroke ‘the Abadan Blues’ but it was very luxurious. As the Skipper reminded me it is a chargeable offence in the Royal Navy. I managed to stop my smart mouth from saying that mine was free of charge.

Back to earth with a bump as the Pilot guided us out past the biggest oil refinery in the world and out into the Gulf. I had already spent the previous day preparing our charts and I took over the Conn from the Skipper and the Pilot. Yesterday I had also had a stroll around the holds to look at this wondrous cargo. – Various assorted bath tubs that looked very regal with roll tops and Victorian legs, toilets, hand basins and even bidets. I was picturing hordes of Chinese peasants, scratching their heads, wondering at the purpose of this unfamiliar gear. The phrase ‘China to China’ stuck in my head like an earworm and I started to giggle. It became an oft repeated phrase on that voyage.

I took us through the Straits of Hormuz and was relieved by the 3rd Mate, still as bellicose and antagonistic as ever. Surely, he can’t still be pissed at me over not getting a Korean medal. I asked if he were feeling OK because he did look rough and he muttered about having a pain in his gut. Me being me just had to say that he should have gone sick in Abadan when I did and mentioned the luxury of the hospital and the lovely nurses and the fantastic goody bag that they sent me home with. Well that went down well! I don’t think I’ll tell him my joke about ‘China to China’. Fuck him! When I next came on watch, I took over from the 1st Mate and he told me that the 3rd Mate’s bellyache had worsened, and he had been in touch with the British Embassy in Ceylon to arrange for an ambulance to meet us in Colombo. I was to set the fastest course. Hadn’t I said he should have gone sick in Abadan? The engine room and the old ship did us proud, together with my brilliant navigation, we steamed into Colombo Harbour and were met by the Pilot boat together with the Pilot, a Doctor and what today we call Paramedics. The Quack diagnosed the 3rd’s ulcer as a severe burst appendix. The Embassy had arranged for the patient to go into the local Royal Air force Base, hospital.

The Skipper and Hamish accompanied the sick man to hospital and returned late in the evening to tell us that we were lucky that he hadn’t died on us and that he wouldn’t be returning – The Embassy would be arranging his repatriation once he was well! Hamish opined that he bet it would be on an RAF plane as that would be the cheapest This smart mouth just had to say “I bet he doesn’t get a Goody bag”. The Skipper then said “Hamish and I have been talking things over and he has nearly convinced me to make you up to 3rd Mate. I say nearly because I’m going to put down a proviso on your promotion. I’ll go along with it if you promise to button your lip, you are nowhere near as clever as you think you are, keep your opinions to yourself. You don’t always have to have the last word – Promise?” When he left Hamish said “You do come across as a bit arrogant sometime, but I convinced the old man that you were covering up nervousness. Don’t let me down”.

The next morning I went to clear the Third’s cabin and packed all his belongings into two cases, with the help of Gilbert Buttery and dispatched him in a taxi to deliver them to the British Embassy, I told him that if he didn’t come straight back we might sail without him and he would probably be repatriated with the ex 3rd Mate. (Note to self – Also I must stop teasing Gilbert) Having cleaned out my predecessor’s belongings I proceeded to make it my cabin. Gilbert returned post haste and had obviously been giving things a lot of thought. – The first thing he asked was could he join my watch as a runner because he wanted to learn how to steer the ship. I told him that we would be returning to a three-watch system and my watch would be permanently nights, 2200 hrs. to 0600 hrs. The crafty little devil said, “I don’t mind that at all Third!” The 1st Mate and Hamish were more than happy to leave most of the chart work to me. – My two helmsmen were more than happy to let Gilbert take the lion’s share of their work and make the tea. He was keen to also learn how to use a sextant, name the stars etc. So, all in all we were a happy ship.

In fact, the fey little boy, Gilbert Buttery from Plumstead no longer existed. During the chatter I suggested that my predecessor hadn’t liked me because I got the Korean medals and he didn’t, Gilbert put me straight. He told me that a long while before that when you were robbed in Georgetown, he heard that you had robbed of a nearly new Rolex watch that had been a gift for when you joined your first ship. He went off on one and was ranting about only a posh twat like you would have a daddy to give him a Rolex. Don’t hold back Gilbert! He went on “Then when you got those medals and he didn’t he went apeshit. He reckoned your daddy had bribed the Skipper to get you aboard” I didn’t enlighten him, in fact I made a vow that I would never pass on any of my personal information, ever. Gilbert was then earmarked as my personal informant as as he had named himself as my runner, I re-named him Gunga Din. I’ll also make certain that he’s not a better man than I am! A few days later Gunga Din told me that a lot of the crew reckoned that the ex-3rd had cleared immigration in San Pedro in front of me and he had set me up for special questioning by one HERR HOSTETTER. That bastard I hope that the RAF makes him parachute back into Wales and forget to show him where the ripcord is. Not that I don’t wish him a full recovery! Anyway, I got his medals, was treated like a king in the finest hospital in the world and a Goody bag. I also got his job and his cabin so sod him!

Our course took us between the Malaysian Peninsular and Sumatra and I received a visit from the jovial 2nd Engineer who appeared to run the engine room. I knew it was serious because he had donned a shirt for his visit. He told me that the Skipper had said that I was the man to see. – God, I must get myself a bigger cap! Apparently on our ‘blues and twos’ run to save the life of my predecessor (SPIT) we had put a lot of strain on both boilers, and we were a long way from home. If I could reduce speed by a few knots and plot a course accordingly the old girl would appreciate it and he would stand me a large drink on our next shore run. I told him that we were stopping over in Hong Kong for a couple of days – He blew me a kiss and left for his underground lair, removing his shirt as he went. I carried out the necessary course adjustments and unbelievably it added nearly 5 days to our journey. We all felt that we had nearly stopped and going through the South China Sea the wind had also dropped to a sea of glass.

Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion. As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.

We arrived at Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong and were berthed for refueling. Even in the 1950s it was a stunning place and I’ve returned a few times since. Only a few 100 yards away from the ship I found a tailor who instead of taking my ‘Snotty tabs off my lapels and fitting my 3rd Mate gold rings, he would make me a complete new uniform complete with two pairs of trousers and deliver it to the ship in less than 24 hours. He convinced me that he was the world’s best tailor and was a fantastic salesman because I also order two civilian suits in the finest material a mixture of wool and cashmere, one in fawn and the other in navy blue. I picked the style from that current year’s Gieves and Hawkes of 1 Savile Row, Mayfair, catalogue. I had no real idea of the currency rate of exchange was but when I offered to pay in US Dollars, I learned how the Chinese Kow Tow was performed. My total bill was $32 US or £24 GBP. If my predecessor had known that my sponsor, not my daddy, had also given me an envelope with $50 US in it before I left, he would have had a relapse!

I believe that the tailor put his workforce on all three floors of his building to work and I took delivery of my 32 bucks worth of tailoring the next afternoon. It was in three separate suit bags on hangers each bearing a Gieves and Hawkes of 1 Savile Row London label and when I opened up the uniform, not only were there two pairs of trousers but they had included a Mess Undress (evening dress uniform) jacket plus a black silk cummerbund. I would wager that you only thought that fashion house copying became rife when the Millennials were born. Well, this Ancient Mariner was in at the beginning. Moreover, I believe that Gieves and Hawkes could not have identified mine as being moody. Would it be remiss of me to suggest that we both used the same tailors, hence the catalogues and official labels?

Another discussion with the 2nd Engineer over dinner regarding our speed for the next leg to Shanghai. We decided to increase our maximum speed to 10 knots, and I altered our course and speed accordingly – the distance was something like 900 nautical miles so a nice smooth cruise of around 10 hours. It took us nearer to 12 so I was able to sleep on in my bunk that night safely berthed in the beautiful city of Shanghai with its lovely British Georgian style architecture – suddenly ‘China to China’ made complete sense. The beautiful Persian porcelain including the bidets were made with those lovely buildings in mind. I wonder what Chairman Mao Zedong would have made of them.

We left Shanghai with a general cargo bound for the port of Yokkaichi in Japan, as I was studying the chart I saw that the nearby port was called, Fukui, now that could have been interesting! We docked alongside in Yokkaichi, a large, very busy harbour. We were quite astonished at these Dockers who worked at a great pace, and we discovered that their average pay was less than a £1 per day. The exchange rate was 100 Yen to £1 and the hourly rate for a dock worker 90 Yen for a 10-hour day. (Perhaps I should have waited to get some new clothes here.) One of my lasting memories was buying a fine porcelain tea set, the sort that when you held a cup up to the light a picture of a geisha girl could be seen. The set was boxed up and shipped to my mother in England. The cost including packing and shipping was the equivalent of 15 shillings. It arrived in perfect condition.

At that time, I really had a chip on my shoulder about the ‘Japs’. – My Uncle Jack had been taken prisoner in Singapore when it fell. At that time, he had been an Army champion boxer at some 14 stone. – He had been put to work by the Japanese on the Death Railway in Burma. I was 11 years old when he was repatriated, and he was a skeleton weighing just over 5 stone. He never did recover his health or fitness. The country 1954 was still occupied by the Australian army and they had no love for the native population either. Unloading the ship by hand was very slow and after some 3 or 4 days we received a severe weather warning of a tidal wave centering on our very location. This is what is now commonly known as a Tsunami, a term that I had never heard of. I felt thankful that we were safe in harbour! The Skipper called a Chinese parliament (in Japan?) and then overruled all opposition, and we took the ship out of the cosy harbour to ride out the storm. Oh my God did we take a pasting. There were a lot of moans and groans from the crew, and I must say that I thought the Skipper had lost the plot Within five hours we found that we were keeping just enough headway to keep our bow, head on to the cyclone and the approaching tidal wave. Everything was battened down and our little ship met the first of the waves which appeared to be travelling some 40 or 59 feet above us as we climbed up it and as we went over the top the screws came out of the water and nearly shook the fillings out of our teeth. Thank God the old girl had a welded hull because rivets would have shaken loose. We had a pendulum, the piece of kit that was known as an inclinometer that recorded the roll of the ship. As we screamed down the back of the wave like a toboggan down a ski slope, we had two helmsmen plus Gilbert (Gunga Din) fighting with the wheel to keep on course. As we hit the bottom of the slope we crashed down and our port lifeboat was knocked out of its davits and was hanging by its forward falls. I saw the Bosun and a number of men lashing the boat into the ship’s side. All were wearing lifelines and May West’s. The 2nd Mate pointed out another wave approaching from the horizon about 5 miles away. I rang down to the engine room to warn them, while the Skipper was telling the Bosun that another wave was on its way and to make his men secure inside. It seemed like an hour before the mother of all Seismic Waves hit us and it was higher than the first. –

This time we seemed to climb it in slow motion. Hamish shook my hand hugged me and said “Well it’s been nice knowing you Lofty” I knew then what those poor guys fighting in the trenches in WWI felt like when they went over the top! I’ve repeated this story many times and no-one believes that I wasn’t scared but honestly, we had so much to do and were all so busy that we didn’t have time to be frightened. I was thankful that I wasn’t in the engine room. The same performance as the first wave saw us over the top and hurtling down, as we hit bottom the crash seemed even louder and this time the starboard lifeboat was stove in with more of the deck crew trying to lash in to the side. We had reached the centre of the cyclone and the sea settled down and there was SILENCE! We lowered our revs and just kept way on. I checked the Inclinometer and we had registered a 38 degree roll each way, when I showed it to the Skipper, he said that we should have rolled right over and thought we were going to be OK now but that was a bit hairy for a minute! Hamish said, “That was some minute, we were going through that shit for nearly four hours!”We spent the night cruising in the eye of the storm planning to return to Yokkaichi all being well at first light. We got little information over the radio that was in English, normally the international language of the sea. We crept back into the harbour, there was no pilot boat to meet us and as we looked around us it was just devastation. All of the orange dockyard cranes had been knocked over and lay buckled on their sides and partly underwater. We estimated that 3 or 4 dozen ships had remained in harbour and every single one had sunk. The water was deep and most of the wrecks only had a bit of superstructure showing and some just some rigging. At that moment Harold Collins our diminutive, little Skipper had so much praise and congratulations heaped upon him that he probably could have walked on water across the harbour we learned that the Tsunami death toll was around 400 souls.

We tied up safely and spent the next couple of days sorting ourselves out. Our change of plans took us just a short hop to the port of Yokohama the port of Tokyo. Our cargo was to be unloaded and arrangements were made for Shipwrights to come on board to assess the damage to the lifeboats and they would be repaired or replaced. It looked as though we could be in for a longish stay in Yokohama. We had a visit from a Tokyo TV Station, I took the call from our embassy in Tokyo and Hamish, and I left our brave captain to explain his brilliant seamanship

I told Gilbert to make himself available as a runner for the Skipper during the interview and left him bricking it in as he had to speak on TV. Hamish and I went ashore for the day although he teased me that as I was the only one with a decent uniform, I should have jumped at the chance to show it off. Will I ever live down my posh clothes? Once ashore we chatted to an Aussie Soldier who told us that he and some fellow soldiers had arranged a coach trip in a few days to visit Hiroshima where the Yanks had dropped the first atom bomb and eventually caused the Japanese to surrender. We arranged to take 6 spare seats and they would call for us at the ship. Hamish said, “Christ you really know how to live the life.” I was thinking of my five stone living skeleton, Uncle Jack and the Death Railway when he was a slave prisoner. I jumped at the chance to view the spot where our allies had kicked the butts of the ‘yellow devils’ so I was feeling quite gung-ho visiting as a tourist.

As it happened only the two of us plus the skipper took up the offer of the free trip. Our new Aussie buddies arrived on time in a military coach with an Aussie driver. They were a noisy lot and very anti Jap, they even embarrassed me with some of the abuse they shouted out as we passed some of the native Japanese. The noisy journey took several hours. The countryside looked not unlike our green and pleasant land. We pile off the bus and I saw . . . . . . . . . . .

The sound of silence; I saw a flattened city covered in dirty white dust; I saw the shapes of human shadows burned as a negative flash and left for eternity on one of the few walls left standing; Utter, utter devastation!

No-one spoke on the bus coming home and the journey seemed to take forever from the spot where some 70,000 souls had been taught a lesson in my name. Where a further 100,000 died over the following five years from the effects of that terrible bomb.

I awoke the following morning after a troubled sleep to find that I had developed a high temperature and a sore throat compounded by a cold sore on my upper lip. I was convinced the I had radiation poisoning I hadn’t of course, but I was just seventeen and I had learned one of life’s lessons Man’s inhumanity to man!

One of the bonuses of the Tsunami was that it delayed us and gave me time to get to know the country. I managed to climb Mount Fuji and see the snow-covered apes bathing in the volcanic heated streams. There is a Japanese proverb about climbing Mount Fuji “He who climbs Mt Fuji is a wise man; He who climbs it twice is a fool. Well in my long life I have climbed it three times and it gave me a lifelong love of the mountains. It also makes me very old!

When I chatted to the Skipper about the sheer cost of the delay and the damage to both lifeboats and the theft of the paint in Cairns I was told not to worry, Lloyd’s have got our backs. The paint has already been replaced, I’ve seen the lifeboats and they’re like new and will be ready and in place by next week. The Bosun was happy with the layover because his ship was painted scrubbed, and the superstructure gleamed – it must be the newest looking Fort Ship in the world. The engine room had time to change the oil and clean the points and give it a new MOT or whatever needed doing. Imagine if our boilers had given up the ghost when we were fighting the tsunami! The stuff of nightmares!

I later heard that the deck crew had had professional assistance from a few locals with a lot of the painting – they had a whip round on the mess deck to pay them. I hope that they paid them more than 90 Yen a day.! The local agent had also been earning his corn and our cargo was diverted to the port of Niigata where we were to be loaded with Phosphate fertiliser bound for Mexico. Phosphate? And I moaned about Sugar!

Once in Niigata City our loading and unloading took about ten days, can you picture coolies dressed only in loincloths and a conical straw hat that looked like a lampshade, carrying wicker baskets from a huge barge moored alongside and the coolies running up a plank from the front of the barge with the basket full of phosphate – it looks like pink gravel, and tipping the basket into one of the holds. More coolies were in the holds shoveling so that it filled all available spaces. Meanwhile the coolie that had emptied his basket now running to another plank and running down it into the barge to continue the chain. This went on non-stop night and day; I called them coolies, but they were more like slaves. Another odd thing I noticed that more than 60% of them wore thick black framed spectacles. I can picture the scene vividly even today.

Another memory from Niigata City was an evening run ashore. Hamish and I were joined by Wolfie the new helmsman who had a very entertaining Scouse sense of humour and my shadow Gunga Din. We visited several bars and night clubs where we experienced the novelty of being served warm Sake the Japanese rice wine by Geisha girls with white painted faces. I said something like “So that’s where our white paint went to, and Gilbert began giggling so much that it became embarrassing and we eventually left. We weren’t staggering on our way back to our ship, perhaps slightly unsteady is a better description.

We hadn’t gone a hundred yards when we were confronted by four lovely ladies of the night, dressed to the nines in very tight silk cheongsam dresses slit to the thigh. We were offered a really good time, try out bath house and happy finish. Wolfie said “Oh dear ladies we have spent all our money, that’s why we are walking back to the ship. He then handed them Gilbert’s arm and said, “He’s the only one with any money left”. He then, like a conjurer, palmed a $20 dollar bill and showed them it in Gilbert’s top pocket. We all walked away giggling, nothing to do with the Sake consumed it was Gilbert shouting “Please don’t leave me boys!” as the girls dragged him away. – Oh, dear it was so funny! I wish you could have seen Gilbert’s face when he returned to the ship quite late the next morning and Hamish collared him. He was red faced but had a huge grin on his chops that had to be seen… Talk about a dog with two dicks!

We had a straightforward and uneventful voyage to our next port of call which was called Mazatlán in Mexico. (Nothing to do with the clothes shop of a similar name.) The place was just like a scene from early western lots of raised sidewalks, men in sombreros and gaudy shirts in yellow and red colours taking a siesta in the afternoon sun, sitting on the ground with their backs against the walls for what shade there was. The Mexican food is not really my favourite fare in modern times but then it was not great. The tequila was fantastic and the local beer they named Sol was fantastic. I chatted to an American tourist in a bar, as one does, and he told me not to miss an experience that he’d been on. A journey in a genuine stagecoach that the locals took regularly across the desert towards Durango to a daily market in a town halfway to Durango. I followed his advice the next day early in the morning I went into town and found the coaching station and with my only Spanish at that time being quanta costa and cerveza. I haggled a return ticket to the town whose name I’ve since forgotten, but its halfway to Durango. I got them to write the details on a piece of card.

When this huge stagecoach pulled by two scruffy horses, it was just as my American friend had described – the large coach had plenty of room to seat 10 or even 12 people inside and was slung on leather straps fixed to metal springs fore and aft. I judged the back wheels to be some seven feet in diameter and the front ones five feet, there was a driver and sitting upfront alongside him was his sidekick, I don’t suppose one would call his the conductor because he was actually carrying a short rifle that looked to me like a Winchester 73 I’ve seen the films I promise you that this wasn’t a film set, it was completely genuine. You couldn’t call up the choking dust and the smells. I only had four fellow passengers, all women, all dressed from head to toe in black, reminding me of black vultures. Ever the English gentleman I took their luggage consisting of hessian bags and large empty wooden cages and helped to hoist it up to the shotgun conductor who stacked it on the large luggage space on the roof. I joined the ladies inside. They were chatting happily among themselves and even tried to include me. I realised that I had learned even more Spanish from my visits to the cinema as a kid. One of the women opened a shopping bag and handed out spicy vegetable wraps (tortillas) to everyone including me, it was far better than my restaurant food of yesterday.

It’s difficult to describe the experience of my coach ride across the desert.

We were travelling at a fair lick – there was lots of dust, genuine tumbleweed, and cacti. I think the horses kept farting unless it was the driver and the noise of creaking springs, rumbling wheels, shouts from the driver and his shotgun, – the laughing and chattering of my newfound girlfriends. You really had to be there.

When we roared into the town and stopped in the square, I helped the two men get down the ladies bags, boxes and bird cages from the roof. I then discovered that the shotgun guy spoke good American/English and he told me that they were carrying on to Durango and would be back to pick us up at the market square in about 4 hours. I helped the ladies stack their baggage behind one of the stalls and I insisted they accompany me to a nearby outside cafe for coffee and cakes. Unbelievably we were entertained by a Mariachi band. My lady friends were all aged between 30 and 40 and not at all bad looking except that three of them had moustaches. I assume that the fact they were dressed in black indicated that they were married. Nonetheless we all enjoyed flirting and I had some difficulty convincing them that I didn’t want their company around town. I promised to see them later at the same cafe to wait for the stage, Whip Crack Away As I wandered around I was very tempted to buy a big black sombrero with crystal jewels as a gift for the Bosun but somehow I didn’t think he would take it as a peace offering.

When the stage arrived with its usual hustle and bustle there were four guys sitting on the roof rack and one new lady inside. My girlfriends now had 3 chickens in cages and their boxes and bags were full. The ladies insisted that I accompany them inside together with all their luggage. Very cosy return journey and I had a hand on both of my knees, and they weren’t my hands. I provided the picnic and when we arrived in Mazatlán, we parted good friends. Two of them were met by husbands in pickup trucks and all the chickens and luggage were piled into them. The other two ladies were being collected later from a friend’s house and both gave me a lovely kiss and a hug.

The local agent visited us the next day, the fertiliser had been removed and the holds cleaned. After having seen the poor local soil, I could understand the need for so much fertilizer. Our cargo was to be our most valuable the old ship had ever carried. A large amount of Mexican silver, coffee beans and raw cotton. The biggest amount taking up four of our holds was in silver items and our destination was London, England.

This leg was going to be a very straightforward trip I’ve heard that before back through the Panama Canal to complete our second circumnavigation of the world. Then across the Atlantic, Simple! We were towed through the Panama Canal, yet another mind-blowing experience through the rain forest that was teeming with wildlife. I had a Macaw swoop on to the wing of the bridge and settle on my shoulder and I fed a wild boar by tossing potatoes to it. The 2nd Engineer fixed with the Skipper for us to anchor off Panama City once we cleared the Canal, for them to carry out further repairs. It appears that our suspect boiler had blown again. The only good thing was that we were treated to the most amazing electrical storm over Panama City.

I can say no more other than that I had to alter my previous plot, taking into account we would be completing a 5,000 miles journey at an average of 4 to 5 knots – can you imagine 54 that’s fifty four days at sea covering less than 100 miles in 24 hours. It did not make for a happy ship and I will not bore you with the journey and by the time we turned into the Thames Estuary we weren’t even excited by the fact that we would be paying off shortly, And then just into the Estuary the bloody radio piped up Portishead Radio to Temple Bar . . . . no-one gave it a thought that we were in no fettle to go round the world again. I heard later that one of the Deck Crew picked up his pride and joy a Hallicrafter Worldwide Radio and smashed it against a bulkhead in temper. Anyway, someone in their wisdom decided that we should be diverted even in our sick state to pay off in the lovely city of Kingston upon bloody Hull. So, another two days to try to lift our spirits. A sad goodbye, all shipmates had been through a lot together.

I later learned the wisdom of our diversion being that the raw cotton was destined for the cotton mills of Lancashire and the fine Mexican Silver to Liberty’s Department Store in Manchester. Ruddy bean counters, was it ever thus? Those extra miles could have finished the Temple Bar for good.

Skipper Collins and my good friend Hamish Orr were both going to swallow the anchor, and both presented me with brilliant reference for my next ship. We wished each other “Fair winds and a following sea” the sailor’s farewell, much nicer that a soldier’s farewell of “Goodbye and bugger you” I think you’ll agree!

I checked train times and decided to book in at an hotel near the railway station and booked a first class seat to London the next day. I dressed in my finery, my navy-blue wool and cashmere suit and carried my Louis Vuitton suitcase. Quite sad that I had completed my maiden voyage and gone from boy to man without realising.

I had a sudden awakening when I arrived home in my Buckinghamshire village of Woburn Sands and my mother’s first words were “Oh hello dear, when are you going back?” I met my sponsor, Herbert. at least he was pleased to see me. I regaled him of my stories, and he asked for the name and address of my tailor in Hong Kong and he actually did business later with them. I went to meet my friends in my Savile Row peacock clothes and found that they were all dressed in drape suits and brothel creepers with DA haircuts. I had completely missed the Teddy boy era. One of the girls in my old gang said, “I love your tan but you really look like a Posh Twat!”

Now where have I heard that before?

A memory of the slow old S.S. Temple Bar as we chugged across the Indian ocean considering our 4 to 5 knot speed was surprising. We crashed into an enormous whale. The crash was enough to stop the ship and we suffered loads of broken crockery and the like, and a deckhand suffered a broken wrist. The whale came of far worse. We had virtually come to a standstill anyway and we circled the injured beast. It began spouting blood and making the most loud and eerie sound, someone identified the animal as a Blue Whale and we estimated it to be some 20 metres long. It seemed only few minutes later when another even larger whale joined us, and it began swimming beneath the damaged creature and began pushing it up to the surface. We probably spent over an hour watching the performance. There was nothing that we could do to help them and so reluctantly we resumed our slow progress. Memory filed!

A couple of weeks after my visit home and much to my mother’s approval, found me at the Pool in London and I found myself, thanks to my papers and my generous references. I travelled to the Port of Southampton, where I joined RMS Capetown Castle as a Third Officer. Actually. I became one of several Third Officers, but my actual posting was of an Extra, Extra, Junior, Fourth officer, the job was very different to what I had become used to. I was 17 years old and serving as an Extra, Extra, Junior, Fourth Officer aboard Union Castle Line’s Royal Mail Steamer Capetown Castle. I spent my days in sheer luxury, The only time that I went near the Bridge was to show a few selected passengers around, “now this is the beating heart of the liner, where the ship is navigated from. This is the telegraph where the navigator can communicate with the engine room to control the speed, blah, blah, blah!” I must say that I felt slightly miffed, but I thought it worth it because of the sheer luxury. Four, Fourth Officers were in a suite of four single cabins, and we shared a personal steward and, would you believe it, a bathroom steward who saw to all our needs.

Our route and timetable were Southampton to either Las Palmas or Madeira or Freetown, Sierra Leone to Capetown. This leg including stops took 2 weeks. The next leg from Capetown to Durban, Natal, took another two weeks via East London and Port Elizabeth. At each of our stops, we took on board new passengers and discharged others. Interestingly at East London and Port Elizabeth we also took on board “deck” passengers who slept on the upper decks. They were usually Cape Coloured or Blacks, and the Company operated the same apartheid as the South African government, fortunately our mainly British crew didn’t feel the same and the Deck passengers were treated very pleasantly. Every evening I dined lavishly with a different group of passengers at their table and occasionally was entertained a female or two in their cabin. It was hell!

On one run ashore in Capetown I met half a dozen Norwegians, the hands from a Whale factory ship, berthed in the harbour. We were treating each other to rounds of Tikki Hock a local brew. I regaled them with my tale of crashing into a Blue Whale in the Indian Ocean. More out of nosiness and a slight tipsiness I followed them back to their ship.

Talk about the little ship of horrors, it was more like Dante’s Inferno as I was treated to a guided tour of the factory ship in full flow. A flow complete with blood, snot and horror that no-one had prepared this delicate seventeen-year-old for. The floating abattoir was as busy and noisy as any factory as workmen dealt with the huge carcase of a sperm whale with nothing wasted. Men were slicing huge lumps of flesh and blubber with long Fletching knives and tossing lumps of it into huge steaming vats. They were slipping and sliding on bloody slime as they carried out their gruesome tasks. The sight and smell and noise of this steaming hell I will not carry on describing but I am sure that you get the picture. I didn’t quite run away screaming, I just ran for the guardrail where I leant over for a ‘kit inspection’ of everything that I had eaten and drunk that day. I made my excuses and left.

Memory locked away in a filing cabinet in a folder marked not required on voyage through life.

Until that was when I read reports in the news that commercial whaling looks set to start up once more after the world had appeared to come to its senses in 1986 and said goodbye to the bloody slaughter.

I thought that we had become more civilised and had outlawed the hunting of great whales for good and allowed these marvellous and complex creatures to roam our ocean depths in peace. It now appears that the Japanese, Norwegians and Icelanders are about to convince the world’s politicians that they should be allowed to return to their barbarous ways in the of the innocents. I’m not sure that I want to still be around if they get their way. Perhaps I will hang around long enough to add my voice in opposition to try to stop this greedy and unnecessary trade.

Today, January 4th, 2019, headlines in the New Statesman reads Japan’s plan to resume commercial whaling could actually help whales. (not of course if you are a whale). The cynic in me says the Japan has never really stopped whaling, they just called it scientific whaling. The cynic on my other shoulder says if you want to know the outcome of this story FOLLOW THE MONEY.

My God! I’m beginning to sound like a tree hugger, but I assure you that I am not. I just love whales and Wales. Call me Ishmael. “There she blows! – there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!”

On my seventh trip we left Capetown to return to Southampton. We called in at Freetown in Sierra Leone – now the home of the dreaded Ebola disease. I too picked up a dreaded disease; it wasn’t Ebola but an equally deadly one, a particularly virulent form of viral Malaria. I don’t remember much of the rest of that trip from the Cape, but not only did I think I was going to die, but that was also the opinion of the ship’s surgeon.  Obviously, I didn’t pop my clogs as I am still here but it was decided that I needed convalescence (either that or the surgeon didn’t want the publicity of a corpse in his sick bay). It was decided that I should be put ashore in the beautiful island of Madeira to recover at company expense. I found myself luxuriating in what then was the most lavish hotel on the island, the Savoy, where I spent six memorable weeks being pampered; bliss! My memories bring back lovely cobbled streets, the biome wall lizards the heady smell of fennel growing everywhere. Fennel in Portuguese is funcha which gives Funchal its name.

All good things come to an end and the company agent decided that rather than wait for my ship to call for me, I should fly back to Blighty for further recovery.

In those far-flung days Madeira did not boast the lovely Santa Catarina Airport; in fact it had no airport at all. What it did have was Aquila Airways who operated a fleet (three I think) of second-hand Short Solent Flying boats that flew two of three times a week from Madeira to Southampton. I stress that these monstrosities were second-hand former WWII military machines. You know how experts can scientifically prove that a bumble bee cannot fly, well you get the picture.

This barely recuperated sickly teenager was ferried out with around 18 other souls into Funchal Bay, the sea was flat calm, Tennyson’s painted ship on a painted ocean, calm! The so-called flying giant sat wallowing looking more like a hippopotamus than an aeroplane and I was helped aboard by a beautiful liveried and heavily made up, air hostess. There were dining tables with crisp, white tablecloths and the seats facing in from either side. I also remember there were lovely frilly curtains at the portholes.

Remember this was the early 50s a I had never flown before. All the passengers were comfortably seated and the very precisely spoken air hostess went through the doors to manual, drill with great emphasis on life jackets. The captain spoke over the Tannoy and after introducing himself told us that because the weather was so still and there were no waves the liner as he called it may have trouble unsticking itself from the surface tension.

He would make his first run and attempt take off but we were not to worry if it didn’t work, it was standard procedure and our first attempt would make sufficient waves to enable a successful launch on the second run.

The engines made an unbelievable deafening roar and he gave it full throttle for what seem like a couple of miles. As he predicted we couldn’t get airborne and the throttle shut down and this flying pig slumped from about seventy or eighty knots and lurched forward and down to near standstill, then turned into our wake, engines roaring flat out and pop! – we came unstuck and shot into the air. Half-crown sixpence moment yet again!

Once again, I thought I was going to die. Not only that, when I looked at the faces of the other passengers and the cabin crew, they thought so too! I won’t bother you with the hellish landing in Southampton Water, suffice to say I later chose the Royal Navy rather than following my father into the RAF.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. But that’s another story! . . . . .

May I wish you all Fair Winds and a Following Sea!

The White Ensign part

I joined the navy, but I’d already seen the sea. In fact, you could say that I sort of joined by accident. I was a Third Mate, (well actually an Extra, Extra, Junior Fourth Officer) on a Union Castle Liner. I had taken a 6 week break between voyages. I have to say that I was somewhat bored because my important job on board was holding passengers’ hands, showing them aboard the Liner and dining with them in the evenings. Can one really get bored with five-star dining? I was going to ask can you get fed up with it?

Anyway, was thinking about a change of ship, a change of route and my first mates ticket. I was exempt from National service but had received my call up papers which just needed completing with details of my exemption.

I met up one of my boyhood chums in the village, he told me that he had to attend his call up interview the next day in St. Albans. Short story I decided to go with him for the craic. Some craic, I was armed with all of my exemption paperwork and sat down for a friendly chat with a two and a half ringer. What a charmer! He convinced me that I would go straight in as an officer and with my experience as a navigator I could be an Admiral with a decade. Sign here! Liar, liar pants on fire.

I found myself in Royal Naval Barracks Portsmouth, dressed in bell-bottoms. I did have a white cap tally denoting that I was a National Service Upper Yardsman. The common advice in all the services is to volunteer for nothing! I volunteered for nearly everything that looked interesting. After 16 weeks training, I found myself at HMS Vernon doing an underwater clearance diving course and then an Underwater Demolition specialist.

My next voluntary posting was to Eastney Royal Marine Barracks near Portsmouth with a view to joining The Special Boat Squadron. The training was hell, but I finished up unbelievably fit, so fit that even the hairs on my chest had muscles. I don’t think that I volunteered for my next move, but I found myself first in Norway and later in Finland preparing for the Cold War. We were in two teams of eight playing at soldiers. It really was a phoney war as far as I was concerned. We even met up with our Russian opposite numbers, the Spetsnaz Special Forces. We didn’t exactly play football with them but had a good rapport. Exchanged hats with one of them, I got the best deal, ending up with a black mink Ushanka.

I next found myself on a frigate named HMS Redpole and spent the time showing the White Ensign doing the peacetime equivalent of sending a gunboat wherever the powers that be thought it relevant.

We spent day after day, week after week in the Norwegian Fjords teaching Dartmouth Cadets navigation and doing dummy anchor runs. In Tromso Fjord the sunken hulk of the German battleship Tirpitz, the sister to the Bismarck and the heaviest European Battleship ever. Tirpitz was destroyed by British ships and planes and then scuttled by its crew in one of the most famous Naval battles in the Atlantic during the war.

I managed to have a couple of runs ashore in Tromso. Unbelievably I found some booty from the Tirpitz in the window of a grocery shop, In the window together with five tine of carrots I saw a huge set of Leica Naval 10 x 20 binoculars I paid one of my emergency $5 bills, tucked them out of sight and hurried back on board. The bins had no provenance but we both know where they came from.

On then to show the flag to Denmark with a visit to Copenhagen where we had an unintentional 3 months stay. We berthed alongside Langalenie Park which was busy with tourists and only yards from the famous Little Mermaid statue. WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL KOBENHAGEN! What a place for a run ashore! The weather mind you were far from perfect. I was blood freezingly cold. The sea was starting to freeze and there were thin slivers of ice starting to form on the sea. Some of the crew had proved a story that if you pissed over the side it would freeze into droplets of ice before it hit the oggin!

Anyway, all good things come to an end and the time came to leave that lovely city. “Hands to leaving stations”, Let go for’ard let go aft” Goodbye Little Mermaid! It was blowing a hooley in Naval terms that translates to Force 8 – 9 on the Beaufort Scale and we were still in the inner harbour. As we passed through the walls into the outer harbour the wind increased and changed direction. We were blown violently to Starboard. The next ten minutes were quite unbelievable and seemed to be in slow motion. Our crew were lined up on either side of the ship in traditional leaving harbour station and heard the Petty Officer scream, “Hands, Stand Fast”. I was standing watching the performance from the flying bridge as though watching a stage show. We were full ahead, both as we passed through the harbour walls, despite this we immediately veered at some 14 knots towards the Danish Royal Yacht that was moored using its anchor cable secured to a huge metal barrel buoy.

We went over this cable and that pulled the bow of the Royal Yacht towards us. It had a long gold encrusted bowsprit, ridiculously the crew, standing at attention, leaned backwards and the huge figurehead passed by, meanwhile we were still making way over the huge steel cable and the figurehead crunched along our superstructure and the whole bow of the yacht broke off and disappeared into Davy Jones Locker. I saw a quick-thinking member of the Danish crew, let go its other anchor as the gale took it away.

We weren’t so lucky as the cable smashed both our screws and we were carried nearly a mile, out of control, carried by our speed and the gale. Eventually we came under control and dropped our anchor. Oh, bugger they are piping for me to report to the Skipper. I was the only diver aboard and had to put my training into practice. I tell you what, a dry suit over woolly long johns and a seaman’s sweater don’t stop the teeth chattering. I didn’t spend long examining the damage. Thank God it was obvious, we were in for a major dry dock. I believe that had we been in Blighty the damage was so bad that the old ship would have been scrapped. We were towed into dry dock and repairs put in hand.

As it was the whole debacle became a PR exercise. The U.K. Press got hold of the story. Our Skipper didn’t get Court Marshalled but there was an enquiry which cleared him of blame. After all one couldn’t expect a Naval Frigate to ask a Royal Yacht to move it’s mooring to allow it to leave harbour. The outcome was that ‘Jumper’ Collins was promoted to full Commander and eventually took command of an Aircraft Carrier. The Royal Yacht’s crew were found at fault and probably got a parking fine! The Danish Navy saw to our repairs and our crew had three months to discover the delights of Copenhagen.

I was returned to Portsmouth to under further training in underwater demolition using explosives on ships hulls on so on. Someone must have been reading their tarot cards. At this time, I was also a frogman stationed HMS Vernon the shore station of the Royal Navy Torpedo and Anti-Submarine Branch which trained Clearance Divers and Minehunters.

Before I got too over trained all hands aboard HMS Vernon (Only in the Andrew can hands be aboard a Stone Frigate which is Jackspeak for a shore establishment on land) was piped and all trained divers were taking part in a training evolution. We were told that a diver had gone missing somewhere in the area of Langstone harbour. He was one of our own.!!

This was an unforgettable time for me. Portsmouth harbour is famous for its thick black mud which is commemorated today with a bronze statue at Portsea Hard of the Pompey Mudlarks the kids who used to dive for coins for centuries. Somewhat less remembered is that this nasty black slime covers the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour, it is somewhat over a fathom deep, it’s black and it stinks to high heaven. It is full of centuries of detritus, a mixture of the contents of millions of gash buckets heaved over the side of every ship that has moored there since Tudor times.

Oh, my Lord! It wasn’t just the kitchen waste of millions of ships it was also the bodily waste of billions of sailors and my shipmates, and I were feeling our way through this foul slime looking for a dead body. It wasn’t just MI6 who were in the shit, we were spending some six hours a day groping around in it. One of our teams gave us a laugh when he related that as he probed through the slime, he thought he had found a head and when he brought it to the surface found that he was holding a large head of cabbage that had gone over in the gash. I think that is called ‘gallows humour’ or as Nietzschput it ‘any experience that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. All I can confirm is that we smelled very strong.

It was about two weeks before that story got into the newspapers and we were pulled out and given a few days leave, sworn to secrecy. The legend of Buster Crabb, with rumour and speculation goes on even today. MI6 is supposed to operate outside of Britain, while MI5 operates within the country. For some reason, Prime Minister Anthony Eden forced the resignation of John Sinclair the Director General of MI6.

  1. B. British government documents related to the Buster Crabb incident will not be released until 2057 – I should live so long!

Something Stinks, but that’s nothing new! There is a saying on submarines, that if you can smell something nasty and there is no-one standing behind you, mister it’s you!

I have included a full resume of Buster Crabb at the end of this chapter. Although much older than I was, I became fascinated by the similarities in our lifestyles. I missed out on his wars and his alcoholism, thank goodness.

Lionel “Buster” Crabb Served in the Merchant Navy and when WWII began, he was commissioned into the Royal Navy and volunteered for mine and bomb disposal. He trained as a diver and had an impressive war record receiving numerous commendations including the George Medal and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He left the RN in 1948 and his CV shows him working in the private sector for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston. He also spent time searching through sunken Spanish Galleons.

He returned to active duty in the RN in 1952 where he is reputed to have spent time searching and investigating sunken submarines. In 1955 he worked with another frogman (Sydney Knowles), investigating the hull of a Soviet ship, the Sverdlov. It became later known that he had been recruited by the funny folk at MI6 and was assigned to perform surveillance on another Russian cruiser, the Ordzhonikidze, which supposedly had a propeller of an innovative design, (probably a bit of cold war propaganda). It was moored in Portsmouth Harbour where it had carried the Soviet Premier Bulganin and Future Premier Khrushchev on a diplomatic mission. Crabb got as far as inspecting the hull of the cruiser but disappeared and was never seen again.

Buster Crab

Lionel Crabb was born in 1909 to Hugh and Beatrice Crabb of Streatham, south-west London. They were a poor family. In his youth he held many jobs but after two years training for a career at sea in the school ship HMS Conway he joined the merchant navy and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve before the Second World War.  At the outbreak of the Second World War, Crabb was first an army gunner. Then, in 1941, he joined the Royal Navy. The next year he was sent to Gibraltar where he worked in a mine and bomb disposal unit to remove the Italian limpet mines that enemy divers had attached to the hulls of Allied ships. Initially, Crabb’s job was to disarm mines that British divers removed, but eventually he decided to learn to dive.

He was one of a group of underwater clearance divers who checked for limpet mines in Gibraltar harbour during the period of Italian frogman and manned torpedo attacks by the Decima Flottiglia MAS. They had dived with oxygen rebreathers, Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus, which until then had not been used much if at all for swimming down from the surface. At first, they swam by breaststroke without swim-fins.

On 8 December 1942, during one such attack, two of the Italian frogmen, Lieutenant Visintini and Petty Officer Magro, died, probably killed by small explosive charges thrown from harbour defence patrol boats, a tactic said to have been introduced by Crabb. Their bodies were recovered, and their swim-fins and Scuba sets were taken and from then on used by Sydney Knowles and Crabb.

He was awarded the George Medal for his efforts and was promoted to lieutenant commander. In 1943 he became Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy, was assigned to clear mines in the ports of Livonia and Venice; he was later created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for these services. He was also an investigating diver in the suspicious death of General Sikorski of the Polish Army, whose B-24 Liberator aircraft crashed near Gibraltar in 1943.

By this time he had gained the nickname “Buster”, after the American actor and swimmer Buster Crabbe. After the war Crabb was stationed in Palestine and led an underwater explosives disposal team that removed mines placed by Jewish divers from the Palyam, the maritime force of the Palmach elite Jewish fighting force during the years of Mandatory Palestine. After 1947, he was demobilised from the military.

In 1955 Crabb took frogman Sydney Knowles with him to investigate the hull of a Soviet Sverdlovsk-class cruiser to evaluate its superior maneuverability. According to Knowles, they found a circular opening at the ship’s bow and inside it a large propeller that could be directed to give thrust to the bow. That same year, March 1955, Crabb was made to retire due to his age, but a year later he was recruited by MI6. By this point, Crabb’s heavy drinking and smoking had taken its toll on his health, and Crabb was not the diver that he had been in World War II.

MI6 recruited Crabb in 1956 to investigate the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze that had taken Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin on a diplomatic mission to Britain. According to Peter Wright in his book Spycatcher (1987), Crabb was sent to investigate Ordzhonikidze‘s propeller, a new design that Naval Intelligence wanted to examine.

On 19 April 1956, Crabb dived into Portsmouth Harbour and his MI6 controller never saw him again. Crabb’s companion in the Sally Port Hotel took all his belongings and even the page of the hotel register on which they had written their names. Ten days later British newspapers published stories about Crabb’s disappearance in an underwater mission.

MI6 tried to cover up this espionage mission. On 29 April, under instructions from Rear Admiral John Inglis, the Director of Naval Intelligence,[5] the Admiralty announced that Crabb had vanished when he had taken part in trials of secret underwater apparatus in Stokes Bay on the Solent. The Soviets answered by releasing a statement stating that the crew of Ordzhonikidze had seen a frogman near the cruiser on 19 April.

British newspapers speculated that the Soviets had captured Crabb and taken him to the Soviet Union. The British Prime Minister Anthony Eden apparently disapproved of the fact that MI6 had operated without his consent in the UK (the preserve of the Security Service, “MI5”). It is mistakenly claimed that Eden forced director-general John Sinclair to resign following the incident. In fact, he had determined to replace Sinclair with MI5 director-general Dick White before the incident. Eden told MPs it was not in the public interest to disclose the circumstances in which the frogman met his end.

A little less than 14 months after Crabb’s disappearance, on 9 June 1957, a body in a diving suit was brought to the surface in their net by two fishermen off Pilsey Island in Chichester Harbour. The body was brought to shore in a landing craft operated by members of RAF Marine Craft Unit No. 1107.

It was missing its head and both hands, which made it impossible to identify (using then-available technology). According to British diving expert Rob Hoole, the body had the same height as Crabb, the same body-hair colour, and was dressed in the same clothes, Pirelli two-piece diving suit and Admiralty Pattern swim fins that Crabb was wearing when he embarked on his final mission. Hoole wrote that given the length of time that Crabb’s body had been in the water, there was “nothing sinister” about the missing head and hands.

Crabb’s ex-wife was not sure enough to identify the body, nor was Crabb’s girlfriend, Pat Rose. Sydney Knowles was requested to identify the body shortly after its discovery. He described the body as being clad in a faded green rubber frogman suit of a type issued to Royal Navy divers, and the remains of a white sweater. The suit had been cut open from the neck to the groin and along both legs, revealing very dark pubic hair. Knowles examined the body closely, looking for a Y-shaped scar behind the left knee and a prominent scar on the left thigh. He failed to find any scars on the body and stated that it was not Crabb.

A pathologist, Dr. D. P. King, examined the body and stated in a short report for the inquest that a careful examination of the body failed to reveal any scars or marks of identification.

The inquest was opened on 11 June 1957 by Bridgman, who had received the pathologist’s report that there was no way of establishing identification. As neither Knowles nor Crabb’s ex-wife nor a Lieutenant McLauchlan, a Royal Navy torpedo officer from HMS Vernon, had been able to identify the body; Bridgman adjourned the inquest until 26 June to allow time for a positive identification.

The inquest had a nasty smell it resumed on 26 June. The pathologist, King, gave evidence that he had returned to the mortuary and once again examinee the body on 14 June. He reported that he had found a scar in the shape of an inverted Y on the left side of the left knee, and a scar on the left thigh, about the size of a sixpenny coin. King stated that the scar had been photographed whilst he was present.

Authors note: This identification happened while I was there as an interested party, and as far as I was concerned it had the smell of a cover up by the funny folk about it. But then what do I know?

Author’s Notes (totally unbiased)

I suppose I must first hark back to my days under the Red Ensign to explain why I’m not too fond of Egypt or Egyptians. In my later life I became a travel writer and I have spent quite a few visits to many hell holes in the Middle East and North Africa. Out of all of them if I were to recommend giving the world an enema (a procedure in which liquid or gas is injected into the rectum in order to expel its contents), Egypt is the country where I would stick the tube.

I have been dealing with lying, thieving Egyptians since the early 1950s when my ship moored at Port Tufic in the Red Sea. Thank the Lord we only had to endure their hospitality for 3 days on that occasion. The local natives in bumboats swarmed upon us like scavengers and stole everything that wasn’t bolted down. We spent the whole 72 hours of our stay cutting grappling hooks as the dirty Arabs tried to climb aboard. If the crew was momentarily distracted or inattentive, we were robbed of most of our personal possessions, clothes, cigarettes, cameras, watches from the crew. Most of the food from the galley disappeared along with every tin of paint together with paintbrushes, tins of jam and packs of rice all disappeared from the holds.

The only thing that was untouched was several thousand tons of unrefined Demerara sugar that was battened down in the cargo hatches. Three more trips on different ships as we passed through the Suez Canal produced similar raids from marauding Egyptians. So a visit that I made to Egypt in 1956 was less unwelcome.

This time I was aboard HMS Bulwark as a member of the Special Boat Squadron taking part in what was to be known as the Suez Crisis or the Kadesh Operation taking part in an invasion by Israel, Britain and France to take back the control of the Suez Canal and remove President Gamel Abdel Nasser.

The outcome of that SNAFU (Naval term – Situation Normal Another F*** Up) is well known

I then had the misfortune to be a qualified underwater demolition specialist and, on the spot, so we spent just over 3 months clearing the Canal of the ships that Nasser had scuttled in order to block the transit of ships through the Canal.

At least the thieving Egyptians were too afraid of us and tended to steer clear of us because of our reputation as killers. Even so we had an outboard motor nicked from one of our RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boat), slippery bastards.

In October 1956, Mollet, Eden and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion met at Sevres near Paris and concluded a secret agreement that Israel should attack Egypt, thereby providing a pretext for an Anglo-French invasion of Suez.

Military action

Ben-Gurion then ordered General Moshe Dayan, (what a character, with his piratical black eyepatch) his chief of staff to plan an attack on Egypt. On 29 October 1956, the Israeli attack was spearheaded by an airborne drop to seize control of the Mitla Pass. Heavy fighting followed.

The next day, Britain and France issued ultimatums to both sides to stop the fighting immediately.

The Israelis continued their operations, expecting an Egyptian counterattack. Instead, Nasser’s army was withdrawing.

Militarily the operation was well on its way to being a great success.

On 5 November, some three months and 10 days after Nasser had nationalised the canal, the Anglo-French assault on Suez was launched. It was preceded by an aerial bombardment, which grounded and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force.

Soon after dawn, soldiers of 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, dropped onto El Gamil airfield, while French paratroopers landed south of the Raswa bridges and at Port Fouad.

Within 45 minutes, all Egyptian resistance on the airfield had been overcome and Royal Naval helicopters were bringing in supplies.

With El Gamil secured, the British Paras moved eastwards towards Port Said, meeting their first serious opposition en route. With air support, they overwhelmed the Egyptian forces then stopped and dug-in overnight because the beach area of Port Said was to be bombarded next day during the seaborne landing.

On 6 November, the sea and helicopter-borne assault went in. Royal Marine Commandos, together with British and French airborne forces supported by British tanks soon defeated the Egyptian forces, capturing men, vehicles and many of the newly purchased Czech-manufactured weapons.

At midnight on 6 November a cease-fire was called on the insistence of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. The Anglo-French forces had reached El Cap, just South of Port Said, but were not yet in control of the entire canal when they were stopped.

Militarily, the operation was well on its way to being a great success.

Backlash

Politically, the intervention in Suez was a disaster. US President Dwight Eisenhower was incensed. World opinion, especially that of the United States, together with the threat of Soviet intervention, forced Britain, France and Israel to withdraw their troops from Egypt.

In Britain too there had been widespread outrage.

A United Nations peacekeeping force was sent in to supervise the ceasefire and to restore order. The Suez Canal was cleared and reopened, but Britain in particular, found its standing with the US weakened and its influence ‘east of Suez’ diminished by the adventure.

Eden told the Commons: ‘There was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt. There was not.’

Accusations of collusion between Britain, France and Israel started in 1956, but were denied in parliament by Eden who tried to avoid giving a clear and categorical answer.

He was at last asked whether there was foreknowledge of the Israeli attack and on 20 December in his last address to the House of Commons, recorded in Hansard, he replied: ‘I want to say this on the question of foreknowledge, and to say it quite bluntly to the House, that there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt.

In January 1957, his health shattered and his political credibility severely damaged, Sir Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, resigned. Guy Mollet, the French prime minister, survived longer despite fierce criticism, but his government collapsed in June 1957.

Since those heady days, I have visited Alexandria, Cairo, and the Valley of the Kings with my Travel Writer’s hat on but forewarned is forearmed and I have managed to hang on to my valuables. I have witnessed dozens of fellow travellers being relieved of their possessions. So, despite being an old Egypt hand I have never grown to even have a soft spot for either the country or its people.

Unlike my son and his fellow diving chums, who regularly visit Sharm el-Sheikh for fantastic diving in the Red Sea, although they do now tend to stay aboard a diving boat while they are there, I have made my feelings plain as to why would anyone want to fly out to a glorified Butlins’s Holiday Camp in Egypt (Spit), where they have scant respect for women and contempt for even basic human rights.

OK so it’s cheap and many holidaymakers have no idea whether they are in Egypt or Eritrea just so long as the sun is shining, and the beer is cheap Many venture no further than the all-you-can-eat salmonella buffet and the swimming pool. The whole point being to drink yourself silly and come home with a radioactive tan and a souvenir stuffed camel.

Sharm el-Sheikh has gained a reputation as being a relatively safe holiday destination thanks largely to the fact that it is heavily guarded by the Egyptian Military. It is heavily guarded because Egypt is full of Islamist Nut-Jobs looking for a chance to kill infidels.

End of the rant and back to The White Ensign.

In around May 1956 I was spending my time between Eastney Barracks with my Royal Marine besties, and HMS Vernon honing my skills in the Special Boat Squadron. I signed up for the Royal Naval Reserve and became a Sub Lieutenant RNR. I was enjoying playing soldiers and although highly trained in self disciple at the same we were a highly relaxed. We were usually found to be dressed in Number 8s (not quite jeans) and a white cable knit sweater.

Uniform, in as much that we were all similarly dressed but nicely laid back. Motto: “By strength and Guile” now known as the Special Boat Service, No difference except the size, I like to believe that we were more elite! Once qualified we were known as Swimmer Canoeists! I was also a skilled rock climber. As part of being swimmer canoeists, a further part of our training was a trip to Spain to a place called Cartagena to be entertained by the Spanish Foreign Legion. (No, until then I’d only heard of the French Foreign Legion, but I soon learned the difference).

Given no time to think about what was happening, we learned we were going to parachute from high altitude to low opening HALO. No problem! Not only that we were going to aim to land on or as near to a rescue boat positioned for secrecy some ten miles offshore. My first jump after a few hours in the classroom, was from a basket under a tethered halogen balloon, the bad news was that we were to get just three days training before being to have a go at the real thing. The good news was that our holiday was only going t6o last for eleven days, when we would be returning to Blighty as fully trained HALO parachutists. If we failed the course, we would be buried in Spain as we would be dead. Don’t you just love forces humour?

A couple of months later we were ideally positioned to take part in naval evolutions in the Mediterranean and two fully equipped, four-man SBS teams boarded an Aircraft carrier HMS Bulwark she was nearly brand new, only being commissioned two years earlier, She was bristling with armament and carrying a full fixed wing compliment of Gannet fighter bombers, plus squadrons of Sea Hawks and Sea Venoms, those are the one with a double fuselage. I’m not sure of numbers and what other specialist helicopters were aboard but the hanger deck was full. Our Mediterranean holiday was given the name Operation Musketeer. I’m not certain who had the foresight to prepare us for, but they certainly read their tarot cards correctly. We couldn’t have been better prepared or in a better position for when “Hands to Battle Stations” was piped. I’m sure that my fellow team members felt the same as I, excited, ready to go and kick arse! The scuttlebutt since we first boarded Ro8 HMS Bulwark was that we were girded for war and hat was so unlikely for a common or garden naval evolution. (Perhaps Anthony Eden was the only one who had been kept in the dark);

By the time we went in, the Israelis had taken out all of the Egyptian airfields and destroyed their airforce while they were still on the ground.

The French operation was surprisingly given the name “Operation Mousquetaire” what a coincidence! We landed on a beach near to Port Said and our two four-man teams launched our two RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) from then on, we were busy doing our own thing and were completely unaware of the fact that HMS Bulwark launched over 600 successful sorties. We had a great time taking out a few Egyptian soldiers and tested some of our explosives by blowing up a mosque, that was a bit of devilment, but we needed to try out our ordnance. It was good to go. We made our way in our RIBs into Port Said and the canal where our destination was to be The Great Bitter Lake, where that Pig’s Orphan Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser had scuttled several ships to block passage through the Suez Canal.

Our job was demolishing the scuttled hulks in order to clear the route through the canal. This would also release the ships trapped in the canal allow traffic to once again travel through. We were joined by a number of Salvage ships and began our serious work blowing up a number of hulks. As we worked there were several Egyptian bumboats hovering although we had the reputation as killers, and they kept clear of us. The Salvage ships were not so lucky, and they were subjected to a regular attack by heaving lines with hooks throughout the night. Surprisingly this only lasted one night when a couple of the intruders were shot. Three days into our work we suffered an accidental underwater explosion. Both our teams suffering damaged eardrums of varying seriousness, but it was bad enough for all men to be picked up and taken to a hospital ship which part of the fleet. It was then that we learned that for political reasons our Suez war was over.

I initially returned to HMS Vernon, to hone my skills. My brief sojourn with the RNR was for hostilities only, so I spent just six months back aboard HMS Redpole flag waving in the Mediterranean, during which time my four my SBS team were together as another jumped up Army officer namely General Georgios Grivas had become involved in politics and was now causing mayhem leading the EOKA guerrilla organisation intend on ending British rule in Cyprus. He was responsible for killing some 400 British soldiers.

As a result of information received (Ullo ullo!) and because we just happened to be there. We proceeded to land on a beach and made our way up through a grove of lemon trees, the lemons were frozen solid. (I later learned that this is quite normal, and the lemons thaw out and continue to ripen.) We continued up the hill until we found a cave that had been described to us. As we stood listening, we could hear our suspects jabbering in Greek. Using hand signals, we gave them a wakeup call with two hand grenades followed by a volley from our machine pistols. We confirmed that EOKA was now four rebel’s light. A small piece of ordnance was enough to bring down the rock and seal the now unmarked grave. Shortly after I flew home from Nicosia airport which was still heavily guarded. I was quite relieved once we were out of rocket range. I was demobbed shortly after getting home and then had yet another enigma!

As a highly trained navigator I was unqualified for any job in civvy street. As a highly trained member of the SBS skilled in parachuting, diving, submarine infiltration and rock climbing I suppose I could look for a job on an oil rig – No! I could have found a job as a mercenary – No!

It looks like it’s back to the red ensign. A few weeks holiday and back to the Pool to find a ship. Groan!

My puzzle was solved by my beautiful girl friend! We decided to get married. I swallowed the anchor, hello civvy street!

We celebrate our 62nd wedding anniversary in a weeks’ time. That’s a very long time and there are an awful lot of happenings during that time! But of course, that’s another story, in fact an awful lot of stories, Watch this space.

There are never any heathens in a lifeboat so never stop praying, on the other hand for God’s sake keep rowing!

 

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To resurrect an old tale . . .or I know that my redeemer liveth

At my great age it is obvious that I am going to lose a few friends and I often used to tell my buddies in the SBS that I was going to be the ‘last man standing’ this has become my brag to my gym buddies when they remind me of my great age,  Last week one of my oldest friends who has lived in Canada for so long that he now qualifies for a Canadian pension in addition to what he calls the pittance of his British one came over to attend the funeral of a mutual friend.  I took him for lunch at Beckworth Emporium where we cheered ourselves up reminding each other of how many mutual friends had passed since our last meeting.  Apart from our mutual friend and my family member whose funerals are this coming week we have lost five more mutual friends in Britain and Canada during the COVID lockdown.  We had a ‘mortality aware’ lunch but it didn’t spoil the joy of valued friendship.  That is what jogged my brain into yet another blog.

A few years ago my Mother-in-Law with whom I didn’t dislike but I did feel that somehow she did not approve of me being good enough for her daughter, just before reaching the grand old age of 91, slipped this mortal coil.

My wife and her elder sister took it upon themselves to make the funeral arrangements.  Ma wasn’t in the least religious and in fact used to sniff because I made a point of attending Church on Sunday mornings and so did not visit her until later.

The two sisters made arrangements with a local undertaker for a service at the Crematorium.  They declined the services of a Priest or Minister and at the suggestion of the funeral director, he would arrange a secular service by one of their regular people and they picked out some hymns that they both liked.  Yeah I know not very secular but think of it as a compromise.

Not being the quiet sort I had to put in my two-penny worth, (I bet you have seen me on television, it’s called interference).   To shorten the story, I wasn’t having some bloke who had never met the old girl going on about some paragon that no-one there would recognise and I said that I would prepare and read the eulogy.  Dutiful wife phoned the funeral directors to tell them to leave a space in the service for me to eulogise.

Come the day I had prepared what I felt was a good tribute to the old bird, after all she had taken an active part in village life, having put on pantomimes and amateur dramatics for some thirty years including making all the costumes for the aspiring Bonny Langford’s in the surrounding villages.

My kids used to tease me that I was never a person to miss making a speech so I walked into the Crematorium behind the cortege without too much trepidation.  Until, that is the lady from the undertakers stopped me, took me to one side and asked me to indicate to the organist, whereabouts in my service I wanted which hymns played.  To my question “What the **** are you talking about?” I gathered that she did not know what a eulogy and on receiving my wife’s phone call, had cancelled their arrangements because she understood that I would be taking the service.

I am not unused to giving the odd lecture and occasionally read the lesson at morning service.  I looked at the fairly large congregation and the coffin sitting waiting for someone to do something.  I took a deep breath and thought . . . . . the old bird might start spinning in her coffin because she is going to get the Full Monty of a Church of England, nay High Anglican burial service . . . . . I am the resurrection and the life . . . .  I started her eulogy with “Unaccustomed as I am” and walked out of the chapel to many pats on the back.

My wife, neverone to give me any credit even when I think it is due, thanked me for saving the day but then spoiled it by saying that I should not have said to the undertaker, after my brilliant service, “Have you got a box of matches? I might as well finish the job”.

I am taking orders for weddings, funerals, Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, I’m cheap but rubbish at leading the singing.

Cometh the day cometh the man.  Last Man Standing

 

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He who climbs Mt.Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs twice is a crazy man.”

The title is a famous saying about the Sacred Mountain. My blog is about climbing it it on a third occasion. What does that say about me?

Climbing Mount Fuji (3776 meters), Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain, can make for lifelong memories. The mountain itself may look more attractive from afar than from close up, but the views on clear days and the experience of climbing through the early morning hours among hundreds of equally minded hikers from across the world.

In the 1950s I was lucky enough to circumnavigate the world twice on my first trip, when I was an apprentice deck officer on a cargo boat.  Both times were at different ports on the Japanese island of Honshu.  The first visit we were in the port of Yokkaichi and I’ve written before about experiencing a Tsunami.

At this time after WWII the nation was under the control of Australia.  Australian soldiers were patrolling the streets.  As we sort of spoke a similar language, we quickly made friends and I was lucky enough to accompany them on several social coach trips.  I’ve written before about my trip to Hiroshima and man’s inhumanity to man.

However I jumped at the chance to go on an organised trip with the “Diggers”, to climb Mount Fuji and then to see the famous bathing monkeys in the hot springs nearby.  N.B. It was at this time I learned my wrong interpretation of Digger being Aussies who carried a shovel to dig for gold or opals.  I have first hand information that they carry a shovel in the outback to “dig ourselves a dunny” ( a hole to poop in).  

This was an unforgettable four day trip and the start of my lifetime addiction to mountain climbing. The second time round we were unloading in Yokohama and again sought out the company of my Australian Army friends. This time I’d swotted up about the Sacred Mountain and had bee in my bonnet about doing a nighttime climb that would get us to the summit in time to experience the famous sunrise. ( “first time wise man, second time crazy man.”).  This time the organised coach trip was much smaller and like a drug addict I had hooked five equally crazies.

The famous five joined a locally organised group of around 25 night climbers of mainly Japanese men, three females and us. All crazy, with the sunrise in our sights.

On my circumnavigations I must have had this trip at the back of my mind because I had purchased a pair of very expensive walking boots and had worn them regularly so they were now very comfortable. Perfect for hiking up Mount Fuji.

I should note that ‘bullet’ climbing (hiking up and down without sufficient rest) is not advised, and visitors are strongly encouraged to rest at one of the mountain stations to reduce the risk of altitude sickness.  Despite Mt Fuji being easily accessible for beginners, the hike should not be taken lightly and without adequate preparation. My first step was to research hiking guides on the official Mount Fuji Climbing website (in English). The summit can be reached by several trails, but, as a novice hiker, I opted for the Yoshida trail which is the best-served by mountain huts. This is the route that our group had chosen.

Apart from my posh hiking boots I bought a head torch, boot covers and packed clothing for both warm and cool weather.  My famous five had done the same and without doubt were far better prepared than the rest of the group.

We arrived at the Fuji Subaru 5th station by bus, roughly the halfway point of the Yoshida Trail, at the height of the hiking season. A large number of people surrounded us, including other hikers or those who had arrived by organized coaches to get a better view of Mt Fuji.

Shops and restaurants at the base of the trail allow you to buy last-minute provisions. In my opinion, the ultimate souvenir is a walking stick you can purchase at the shop. Not only is the stick an invaluable aid to get over the rocky parts, but it’s a great memory of the hike.

While there’s no cost to hike Mount Fuji, climbers were asked to contribute100 yen per person at stations along the ascent. At that time it was 10 yen to the pound and dock workers were paid just 10 yen a day. ( well they had lost the war).

We set off on our ascent at around 18:00, when the afternoon light began to soften.

Driven by a mixture of excited energy and apprehension, we reached the 6th station in good time. The other hikers we met en route were a friendly group of people, from novice to seasoned hikers alike, all with an apparent excitement to reach our shared goal:

As the sun set, the stunning landscape that stretched out below us slowly evaporated out of view. The temperature sharply dropped as the warmth of the sun disappeared.

While resting at the 7th station, I looked down at the lights of the cities far below.  This was probably when my fascination with mountains began.

As I looked into the distance, a thunderstorm was happening below us. Being at eye level with the magnificent storm on the horizon gave me a unique sense of connection and intimacy with nature.

After we reached the 8th station, the temperature dropped further. Chilled, I put on every piece of clothing that I had packed to stay warm. The mountain rest huts (which we were avoiding due to its fee) looked more alluring as the night wore on.

However after an hour’s rest, the five of us set off again towards the summit. As I looked back down the trail, I was taken aback by the sight of hundreds of hiker’s lights snaking up behind us. It was clear we had set off unintentionally early and had missed the crowds who slowly followed behind

As we started the final ascent to the summit, the trail narrowed, and everyone was forced into a slow, single file. I was surprised to see workers dressed in high visibility clothing directing the pace and flow of the hikers. They looked grossly out of place, waving their illuminated rods and would have looked more at home directing the street traffic thousands of feet below us.

In Darkness at the Summit of Mt Fuji

The summit of Mount Fuji can be crowded with hikers awaiting the sunrise.  Finally, we reached the summit, and I entered a world of darkness and weary faces, which made me wonder if it had all been worth it. Finding a suitable spot to rest, we set down our padded foil blanket to await the sunrise. A sea of darkness surrounded us, lit only by moonlight and the occasional torch. Looking up, I got lost in a galaxy of thousands of clear, glittering stars. 

In the daylight, an alien-like atmosphere was created by the volcanic landscape. The thinness of the air affected the way sounds travelled, and I felt like I was no longer on earth. As my adrenaline waned, fatigue began to fill my body. The mountain huts sold food, and there was even a post office to post a letter from the summit. After a rest and some rehydration, we began our hike down.

The way down was very long and arduous. It felt like a never-ending descent, zig-zagging on uneven, slippery rocks. The 4 hours it took to reach the 5th station felt like a lifetime. Thankfully, the boot covers I had purchased prevented the majority of the small volcanic stones from getting into my boots. As we descended, the cold fresh air of the summit was replaced by the thick muggy climate of summer in Japan.

I had drunk all my water early in the descent and had grossly underestimated the hike down. We reached the 5th station around 9 am, tired and thirsty, but with a swell of pride and a great sense of achievement. I had just accomplished the highest point in Japan, and I knew I would never look at the mountain in the same way again.

my first two ascents were before my 17th birthday. Later in life I had become a travel journalist. Mostly being contacted by a magazine or newspaper and being dispatched to a destination of their choice that would highlight one of their advertisers. Sometimes meaning my spending hours on an airplane, a couple of days getting a feel for a place and taking photos and lots of notes, followed by another day sitting on a plane making for home. Sometimes I would get lucky with a short flight and a more leisurely stay.

During  very slow time I had this brilliant idea. I had been this crazy man who climbed Fuji twice but had been so smitten that forty years later I needed to return to Japan and climb a third time.  This was around the time of the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Japan had shown the world that they had rebuilt and were now a peaceful partner in the world.  I managed to sell the idea to a popular magazine and gained the interest of a broadsheet and a couple of red tops.  Success, expenses covered and a leisurely visit on the books.

what a different country Japan is!  At least a quarter of the population speak better English than me. Three-quarters of the population wear spectacles, even the Geisha girls, OK I was getting a feel of the country so a visit to a bathhouse was a must!

Usually when I go climbing my kit is stuffed into my backpack.  This time apart from plenty of warm clothes all I had was my favourite Gucci hiking boots that I’d bought in Tokyo in the fifties. The fact that they’re still in great condition having accompanied me up eleven Munro’s in Scotland, Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, every hill in Snowdon, the Black Mountains and Brecon and still in great condition after thirty years, proves their provenance.

by this time a much travelled journalist on expenses I was tempted to go on an organised private tour by chartered vehicle when my driver would collect me from my hotel and deliver me to Mount Fuji’s 5th station and arrange to collect me when I had completed my hike to the summit and back, delivering me back to my hotel.

You mustn’t forget that I’m one of Mount Fuji’s Crazy Men.  I did want to add to my experiences to relay to my readers.  So I decided to travel, not by the usual train but by the Bullet Train. This doesn’t go all the way but I just had to experience the famous train one-way at least. A ticket cost about 25,00 yen that’s about £20. However I discovered the a 7 days Japan Rail Pass, costs 35,00 yen (£25). No contest. I can now travel for free on any train within a 100 km radius of Tokyo.

I may have mentioned that I once travelled by train from Portsmouth, looked out of the train window and got a piece of clinker in my eye. I have avoided travelling by train in Britain ever since.

I took a taxi from my hotel to the station on an early start and was totally gobsmacked by the Bullet train. Even in 2021 we have nothing to compare with the Japanese Bullet Train in the 1970s.

Not only was the Bullet Train fabulous but it passes some of the best views of the mountain.   I left train at Tokaido, waved my JR Pass together with my passport and boarded the recommended train to Odawara Station and began my climb, accompanied by a small group of five or six fellow climbers all Japanese and we began our climb. As we progressed we noticed that we were being followed by a group led by a guide. They followed some 100 metres behind up.  That was when the icing fell off our cake and we found our way forward being interfered with by dozens of orange overalled people highlighted by hi-viz yellow waistcoats. The clothes were an offence to the eye. It was …… “Go there, Stand there, Wait there, Take photo there. These people lined the path as far as we could go. The actual summit is now fenced off with PRIVATE LAND NO ENTRY signs. It is now under private ownership.

This Crazy Man was now a very passed off man.  Our whole seven man group had stayed together and were all disappointed. I was the only one who had climbed before and I couldn’t resist relating how brilliant my two previous climbs had been.

We began our descent through the same Hi-viz  pipeline, still issuing orders, which I ignored when I could. The grass path was very slippery and the only highlight was when three of our party slipped over on to their backsides, slid downhill and took out two of the Orange Hi-viz men with them.  Being me I had to have a little rant about Health and Safety and they would be better employed gritting the dangerous path, rather than issuing orders like “Stand there, stop there, and where to take photos. I was quite chuffed that someone, possibly the Hi-viz foreman began bowing and actually saying “velly solly “!

I left my group at the5th Station and returned on the regular Fujihyu line using my JR Pass. I left the train at Shinjuku Station and took a taxi to my hotel.

I was left disappointed by my third Fuji climb, it’s suddenly become automated.  Mind you I’m led to believe that Mount Everest had become even worse  I suppose it had to happen as it’s become more and more popular.

I’m now far too old to return to Japan but if I should discover than 80 is the new 50, I would spend my time with a JR Pass touring by train  I bet none of my family will believe what I just written knowing my aversion to trains!

Now what subject shall I write about for my next blog?  See you again soon!

 

 

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Kill all the Lawyers

In two months it will be the second anniversary of my lockdown sentence.  On March 2nd 2019, the much revered National Health Service, wrote to me personally, advising me that I was “special” inasmuch as I am very old and diabetic, therefore I was considered vulnerable in the scheme of the worldwide pandemic called COVID-19!

Well I’ve always known that I was special but I also felt far fitter than most 83 years old veteran.  I’d taken my type 2 diabetes by the throat by both diet and exercise and after 3 long term average blood tests had been around 4.2%.  Normal non-diabetics are anything under 5.7%.  Hence my wonderful Diabetes Specialist Nurse told me that I am no longer diabetic and I no longer need medication.

However for someone who considers himself reasonably smart, I can also be very dumb.  I made the mistake of showing the letter to my darling wife of 60 plus years.  This is the wife who is also my medication supervisor and who had congratulated me for beating diabetes.  She had no longer perused the letter than I was “Confined to Barrack” on her orders, for 15 months.  By the time my sentence was over I had also had my first two Pfizer Vaccinations, I’d done a lot of writing of mostly blogs and newspaper articles, plus many letters of complaint to anyone who upset me, especially politicians and local councillors (they only think they are politicians), anyway by the time that I had been released from confinement I should have been a happy bunny but I’m not!

I’m grumpy and getting grumpier by the day mostly spurred on by my short term memory, things like forgetting where I’ve put things when I’m certain that I put them in a safe place and then can’t find them!  My wife insists that she hasn’t moved them!  I’m beginning to wonder if she’s not trying to send me loopy so she can get “power of attorney” whatever that is, but bless her she’s as forgetful as I am!  A month ago I decided that it would be a great idea to buy a number of reading glasses to leave in appropriate places around the house so I am always able to put my hand on a pair when needed.  A month later, gone, they have all disappeared into thin air.

So I clicked on “Buy Again” on Amazon Prime and next day, five identical pairs of reading specs were delivered.  I felt like Shylock when I coveted them in their original packaging and popped them under my favourite recliner, where I seem to spend rather a lot of time these days.  Two days later I can’t find them!  I didn’t mention the disappearance to my wife, that would only confirm hers suspicions.  Over a week after they went missing, I discovered them still wrapped in their original packing, in a desk drawer in my upstairs office. . . . . . . Poltergeist??

Even outside of Lockdown I’m an avid reader and will virtually read anything, so much so that my aforementioned, lovable wife, insists that our breakfast cereals are kept in various Tupperware boxes to stop me being distracted at the breakfast table, Hmmph!   I have two Kindle Paperwhite Readers so that I have two different books on the go at the same time and switch when the mood takes me.  My Kindle library has 860 in it.  I found myself reading Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 – To quote “The first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers”.   My strange sense of humour told me “What a perfect title for my next blog”.  So this one is pro bono but to upset the lawyers rather than killing them.

I don’t know about you but after 2021, I need cheering up, so today, New Year’s Day there will be no whistleblowing, unless it’s to welcome in 2022 in the hope that it will be better than 2021.  No fish fights between Salmond and Sturgeon, in fact no politics, no horsemeat, no windfarms, no global warming.  No E.U., no Boris, no Starmer, no Blair and that’s very difficult considering today’s news.  No B.B.C., no Guardian, no Owen Jones, no N.H.S. nor even Jimmy Saville, who by the way is still dead!

Today, there will just be a smile as we look forward to a year that just cannot be as bad as the last two.  You will have gathered that I have a strange sense of humour, so let’s upset the Lawyers as I promised

. . . . . . . . A Solicitor parked his brand new Porsche 911 in front of his office in order to show it to his colleagues

As he was getting out of his car still looking at the beautiful silver paintwork, a lorry came speeding around the corner, too close to the kerb and took off the door of the Porsche, before failing to stop and speeding off.

Distraught the Solicitor grabbed his mobile and called Police. . . . . . . . Five minutes later the Police arrived. . . . . . . .  I did say this is only a story!

Before the Policeman could say anything the Solicitor start screaming hysterically, ” My Porsche, my beautiful brand new, silver Porsche.  It’d ruined.  No matter how long it’s at the repairers, it will nver be the same again.

He stopped to take a breath having finished bleating but close to tears!  The Policeman shook his head in disgust saying, “I can’t believe how materialistic you bloody Solicitors are” he said ” You lot are so focussed on your possessions that you don’t notice anything else in your lives”

How can you say such a thing at a time like this? sobbed the Porsche owner.  The Policeman said “Didn’t you realise that your arm was torn off when the truck hit you?”

The Solicitor looked down in horror, “F**ing Hell” he screamed “Where’s my Rolex?” ????

Did you know that SOLICITOR is an anagram of CLITORIS? Well nearly and it should be!

Anyway, forward and onward into a New Year, my 86th year and can I tell you some stories?  Providing they aren’t where did I put things or what day it is!  Happy New Year!  God Bless! Stay Safe!

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My Mother was a Black Marketeer!

Do Wokes have an alternative word for a black marketeer?

To set the record straight, my mother wasn’t the most lovable person I’ve ever met, in fact, when the chance came at the age of 13, I couldn’t wait leave home for Naval College.  In fact I never really returned home. I have a bitter memory of returning from my first voyage after 15 months at sea and her first words were “When are you going back?”

Ma was a fearsome, strong minded, independent woman and the daughter of a coal miner, brought up in Edwardian times in a Durham pit village.  My Pa was a career airman in the RAF, having joined the Royal Flying Corps as a boy cook and a Warrant Officer when WWII broke out.  We had left a life in married quarters and settled in a delightful Home Counties village called Woburn Sands which is on the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

As a service wife Ma was quite used to her husband being away for long periods, so she didn’t suffer the sudden trauma of being abandoned when their spouses were called up to serve King and Country and having to cope alone with their children and keep house and home together.

It may have been less traumatic for Ma but having to feed and clothe my elder sister and me when everything that could be, was rationed and if it wasn’t, it was either unobtainable or in short supply.  Just to stop us from getting too soft in our idyllic surrounding the government decided to pressurise us into taking in a Jewish family from the bombing in London consisting of a mother and her two daughters.  Their house had been reduced to rubble while they were in the shelter of an underground station.  Thank goodness they were an absolutely lovely family but I’m sure you can imagine the total upheaval it brought to our existence.

When I hear the likes of Bob Geldof and the bleeding heart brigade of politicians and actors pontificating about welcoming Muslim Refugees into their homes I cannot wait for a single one of them to fulfil their Libtard ‘promise much and perform little’, fantasy world.

Anyway I digress again.  I look back on that time and how my mother decided that no matter how Adolph Hitler, aided and abetted by our own politicians and their red tape interfered, we would survive and my goodness we survived.  I can only speak for my mother and she is long dead and anyway the statute of limitations must have long expired for mother and all her friends who saw it their duty to get round the restrictions placed on their welfare.

We had a large garden so mother became a bricklayer; don’t ask where the bricks appeared from but Marston Valley Brick Company made them some 7 miles away.  She built a fine Pig Sty and two female piglets appeared to become our breeding sows as a way to supplement our meat ration.  Our evacuees’ mother turned to and built a chicken run and six pullets and a cockerel appeared.  Egg production was the plan, mainly to feed us as eggs were a rationed commodity.  Again mother had a cunning plan.  We were able to exchange one’s egg ration for an allowance of chicken feed.  Chickens were killed for food as soon as they stopped laying eggs and I soon became quite adept at wringing their necks and plucking out the feathers.

Somewhere in my mother’s plan and the reason we added a cockerel to our menagerie right from the start was that she intended to breed her own replacement flock of chickens.  Hence the need for a cockerel to fertilise the eggs and thus all of our eggs were fertile.  She had read a book somewhere about a family who made their own incubator, I think it was a novel rather than a DIY book but we subsequently had a tea chest cut down and fitted with a couple of electric light bulbs and we eventually supplied ourselves and friends and neighbours with a constant supply of little yellow day old chicks.

It was probably after the war that I discovered that the maker of rules and regulations to put a spoke in mothers’ plans wasn’t called “The Bloody Ministry of Food”, anyway we had started with two prospective breeding sows and mother could only have a licence to keep one.  So a second Pig Sty was built on our Allotment plot and whenever an inspector called or someone from the local Pig Club paid a visit their inspections were rotated between the one in the back garden and the other in the Allotment.  The licensing was all to do with the supplies of pig food and how much meat ration had been surrendered.  For centuries, gardeners and smallholders had kept poultry and the odd pig or two for their own house use.  The powers that be recognised that come what may that such practice would continue, so they encouraged groups of people to form Pig Clubs that were allowed legally to buy, feed and look after pigs.

Pigs were normally fed on scraps from homes, cafes, bakeries and anything edible that came to hand.  Clubs were allowed to purchase legally small amounts of corn or feed to supplement this meagre diet.  You will not believe the number of sacks of meal that ‘fell off the wagon’.  Of course this was years before Combine Harvesters became common use and the corn was cut very inefficiently with rotary cutters and stacked in sheaths to dry out before carting them to the threshing drum.  Literally hundredweights of ripe corn seeds spilled and were left on the fields to waste.  Much to the delight of the wild bird population and the local livestock owners who were given permission to ‘glean’.  My fearsome mother recruited gangs of holidaying schoolchildren as ‘gleaners’ and in about two weeks at the end of harvest our two barns and the allotment shed were filled with sacks of free grain.

Pigs and piglets are greedy animals and feeding has to be constant and never stops. Bins were placed at certain spots around the village for the reception of kitchen waste which was collected by the council’s lorry driver.  The stuff was sorted and sold to poultry and pig keepers.  We sometimes beat the council lorry and sorted out the good stuff.  If you like, cutting out the middle man!

We acquired a two wheeled barrow and as we were surrounded by the Duke of Bedford’s forests and had carte blanche permission to collect firewood most of our fuel was logs long before wood burning stoves became fashionable. I can remember on a couple of occasions collecting literally hundredweights of acorns and sometime sweet chestnuts in that barrow to feed the pigs on.  They loved them, shells and all, so we not only had well fed pigs we had happy pigs.  As the war progressed we used to get pig swill delivered that was collected from sources in London.  This food waste was called “Tottenham Pudding” which we assumed was its source, although something at the back of my mind has me remembering that it was sourced in Edmonton, wherever that is.  No matter it was dreadful smelly stuff but the pigs loved it.

Our pigs, both the legal ones and the supplementary ones thrived on the diet provided by my mother.  Each sow produced around ten piglets which were fattened for slaughter in around 12 to 16 weeks.  There was a big day when Ma’s legal pigs were slaughters through the pig club.  Half of the carcasses were sold (for a pittance as Ma said) to the Government, to help with rationing and the remainder was divided between Club members, as either pork or bacon.  When the other members slaughtered their animal we also received our share.

Perhaps a month later, perhaps ten or so of our illegal porkers that had also been fattened for slaughter, this time for a real red letter day when a certain local butcher with the help of a long retired slaughter man and perhaps a couple of Italian prisoners of war, collected our harvest in a large lorry.  I have no real recollection of the black-market distribution but on those occasions we had whole smoked hams hanging in our barn, legs of pork, sides of bacon, shoulders of pork, pork tenderloin, rib chops, loin chops and of course sausages and black pudding.  We of course had no refrigerators in those days but our tame butcher and a back-up from our tame fishmonger did and they were very well rewarded to house our household meat supply.

Not just friends and neighbours received benefits from mother’s allotment, the butcher and fishmonger could only look after so much of our prime cuts and anything that we couldn’t smoke in the form of ham or bacon was distributed that day.  I remember our local Bobby always had a roasting leg joint together with some kidneys and liver.  Possibly to salve mother’s conscience our Vicar, the Roman Catholic Priest and the Methodist Minister were all beneficiaries and no-one knew of the other recipient; but that was the way of the black market trade.  It wasn’t called that then, it was just being neighbourly.

Well thats the tale of our pigs and poultry, as the war progressed mother acquired two nanny goats and a billy goat.  But that’s another story and I’m keeping it in my locker for another day.

I think the funniest memory was of our evacuees, they were orthodox Jews (I used to get pocket money for chopping sticks and lighting their fire on Shabbat which is observed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, oy vey!) but needs must when the devil drives and Momma Levitt decided that rules could be bent for the duration.  They enjoyed pork every bit as we did, she told a white lie to her girls namely that it was chicken in case they let it slip to their father when he visited.  But they discovered a real fondness for lovely roast crackling.

In this digital age I am sure that my Mother would have been a leading campaigner against rationing and the Ministry of Food in particular. There is no doubt that it was for  propaganda purposes, making certain that the British public felt that they were doing their bit every much as the boys on the front.  

The Ministry of Food employed thousands of civilians, jobsworths every one.  As it was, it was sheer luck that Mother wasn’t arrested for doing her bit for the war effort.  Every single part of the pig can be eaten except for the squeal and as Mother often said “ There’s no waste where there’s Pigs!

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The Knicker Saga

I had a free £20 Amazon Gift Card, so being a nice person, I asked my darling wife, ‘Pollyanna’; if she would needed anything?  She opted for some new knickers.  What else can you buy a lady who has everything?

l opened the Amazon page and she chose a pack of five pairs of white cotton pants. They duly arrived on next day Prime delivery.  Lo and behold it was my fault even though she had chosen them, they were ‘Hipsters’ lower than most teenagers would have chosen.  “Not worry my love, I’ll send them back and get a refund. Have you ever tried to return an item to Amazon for a refund?  Bear in mind we are declared vulnerable persons and have been on lockdown for 15 months, hence the reason we are Prime Amazon Members.

The simplest way that suit’s Amazon rather than taking it down to Morrison’s to be collected from the Amazon locker, was for Hermès to collect it from our home!  – Another stay at home day to await collection  8am to 10pm bless them they called at 11am.

Because I was looking for Brownie Points I took it upon myself, not to wait for a refund and ordered the most expensive, high waisted, cotton with 5% Spandex knickers in Black, to be delivered tomorrow.  At 6.35 am I received notification that Pollyanna’s pants were to be delivered by 10pm, it was accompanied by a photo of the knickers but the photo was of beige knickers   – right make – right style – wrong colour!  What should I do?  Well what I did was throw my toys out of the pram with the unfortunate lady at Amazon, who had the temerity to ask me “How can I help you?

I must admit that a couple of hours after venting my spleen I did feel slightly embarrassed (only slightly) at some of my rather aggressive language but that’s what she gets paid for.  She couldn’t explain why my order of black knickers which she agreed was for black became changed to beige.  – wrong order cancelled and a new order placed for the expensive, high waisted, ladies pants in Black.  They were of course going to be a day late.

The following morning the confirmation arrived notifying me at 8am that the black pants were on their way and would be delivered before 10pm.  Another wasted day for one of us!

10pm arrives, no Amazon delivery! – at 10.15 pm an email arrives apologising, Amazon had failed to include your item in today’s delivery.  We will email you when the item becomes available.  At 6.35 the following morning, lucky me, we have located your item, it will be delivered before 10pm today.  Pollyanna decided that I was not a suitable person to be answering the door to Amazon delivery – fortunately the delivery appeared at 6.10 pm, the bell rang, she opened the door and the parcel sat on the path in front of the door.  No sign of Amazon man  he had even avoided our video door bell which is triggered when anyone comes through the front gate.  When I said, there is no proof of delivery, I think I’ll deny it was delivered.  It was enough to set Pollyanna off on another tirade.  – I don’t deserve this, all did was tell her that I had a free Amazon Voucher for £20 and she could buy anything she wanted with it.  I am going to relate this sorry tale to Amazon but I’ve decided to spare the unfortunate lady who answers the phone with “Customer Services, how can I help?

Instead this is being published on my blog, then posted on Facebook, I shall then forward it as an attachment when I email my complaint to Customer Services  I shall be ultra polite just asking for their response.

By the way Pollyanna loves her black, high waist knickers, but if anyone thinks of sending me an Amazon Gift Voucher, please think of an alternative present.  I suppose it did give me a something to write about and that keeps my brain ticking over.  I shall return!

 

 

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There is no good war and no bad peace. . . .

Today’s Telegraph quoted  – Boris Johnson ‘unhappy’ about Afghanistan and says ‘blood and treasure’ must not be wasted

British lives lost and money spent in protecting the Afghan people must not be in vain, says PM, as Taliban fighters storm regional capital.

All my life I have revelled in dangerous pursuits and peculiarly got a perverse kick out of asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” whether hanging from an overhang on a rock climb aptly named Cemetery Gates, or clawing off Les Casquets at the helm of an ocean racer.

I realise after digging into my memory bank, that nothing has changed but at least Boris has pulled our troops out. I still can’t answer what the hell were we doing there in the first place. Oh of course it was to do with our “Special Relationship”. No Jake don’t go there!

I wrote in my musings in a blog from 2009

This week I did not take the same headstrong pleasure when I uttered nearly the same words while watching the residents of Wootton Basset on TV as they honoured our dead troops returning from Afghanistan. Seven troops killed in seven days. Can someone tell me what the hell we are doing there?

I should declare an interest as I have a number of good friends serving in the Royal Marine Commandos and no-one has told them what they are doing there. I have a relative who was a GP who felt strongly enough to take a sabbatical and volunteered as a medic to the anti-communist Muslim Afghan guerrillas (the mujahidin) who were then fighting against the Afghan government and the Soviet forces.

In those days the West considered that the mujahidin who call themselves ‘soldiers of God’ or ‘the Taliban’ were the good guys and they received funding from the American CIA. The Taliban is not a terrorist movement as is now claimed and demonised by western propaganda, but was founded as an Islamic religious movement dedicated to fighting Communism and the Drug Trade.

The current war in Afghanistan is not really about Al-Qaida and terrorism, but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtun tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin of Central Asia to the West. The US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are essentially pipeline protection troops fighting off hostile natives. So we have had a deadly, bloody, conflict that has already outlasted the Second World War by nearly three years. WHY?

Our losses of UK troops now stand at 175 with hundreds more horrifically injured, and this is the war that former Defence Secretary John Reid assured us that would be over before now without a shot being fired, bloody politicians. Our troops are dying to prop up a floundering and corrupt regime under the US-installed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Doesn’t that remind you of the Carry On film ‘Carry on up the Khyber’ and a Sultan named Kharzi? If I remember rightly he turned out to be a bit of a S**t too.

Western war propaganda has so demonised Taliban that few politicians have the courage to propose the obvious and inevitable: a negotiated settlement to this pointless seven-year war. The Karzai government cannot extend its authority beyond Kabul because that would mean overthrowing the Uzbek and Tajik drug-dealing warlords and Communists chiefs that are the base of its power.

Barack Obama is wrong about Afghanistan and as usual, Gordon hasn’t a clue; it is not a ‘good’ fight against terrorism but a classic, 19th century colonial war to advance western geopolitical power into resource rich Central Asia. The Pashtun Afghans who live there are ready to fight for another 100 years, please God somebody tell Obama and Brown before we get yet another kick up the Khyber.

I am old enough to remember our politicians telling us that Jomo Kenyatta ate babies, Nelson Mandela was a murdering scumbag, Archbishop Makarios was an evil criminal, David Ben-Gurion massacred hundreds of innocents, and even that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness were solely responsible for all of the troubles in Northern Ireland. I now know that it is not just when politician’s lips are moving that they are lying; it is when they are breathing they are lying.

So don’t just tell us what the hell we are doing there, for God’s sake get us out of there.

P.S. I had to add the contents of a letter from today’s paper that I just wish I had written – Mr Bernie Adamson from Northampton wrote – We have soldiers arriving back in the UK in body bags almost daily with no sign of a Labour MP or their wives to receive them back from the war – but today at a Gay Pride march, there’s Sarah Brown complete with whistle and Pink Union Jack. . . . . . That says it all.

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I’m on the road again!


Back on the road again, most of my friends are aware that I’m a complete car nut. I have a petrol driven, V8 Lexus Sport capable of 160 mph. (Innocent face – who me officer?) I also claim that I am saving the environment by trying to use up as much fossil fuel as I can so the my great grandchildren will not have to suffer the lack of ozone layer like my generation.

I went into lockdown at the end of February 2020 because of my great age and having been diabetic since 1989, when the diabetes came to light when I was climbing on Snowdon. You could say that things went downhill from there, and I finished up in hospital.  My test strips hadn’t turned green, they were black.

I am considered vulnerable. But I am enough of a rebel to have argued the point that high doses of insulin caused a huge increase in my weight, which had exacerbated the problem.

However in the passing years I had taken my diabetes by the throat, lost a vast amount of fat, joined a gym and worked out for around three hours each weekday. Replaced insulin with pills and gradually reduced pill intake to one pill a day.

However my management in the form of my lovely wife instructed me that the NHS have declared that you should go into lockdown because you are vulnerable so you must go into lockdown.  So into lockdown I went.  She excused herself by saying that she didn’t want to lose me before my time. Aaah! Not aagh!

In mid lockdown a telephone consultation with my diabetic nurse informed me that I’d cracked it and I was no longer considered a diabetic. Even this made no difference to my jailer. Did I mention that she’s only a year younger than me?

My car was collected by my garage and taken away for its yearly service and M.O.T. in March 2021. For the last 12 months my  car had covered just 820 miles.  The odd trip to the GPs surgery and a short run by the wife either  to charge the battery or an occasional trip to the Supermarket.

There sits my car, fully serviced and legal, panting at the bit and I get a letter from the NHS telling me that I am no longer considered to be vulnerable.  Don’t ask me why because I have no idea.

However the country is still in lockdown.  I sneaked out and took the car for a little warm up, just 20 odd miles.  The management made a remark that she was about to phone me in case I had broken down and did I wear a mask?

Then Boris offers his reprieve from  April 12th. Gyms open, but I have an alternative appointment which means 100 miles round trip. To Corby old town in the North of the county.

Gosh I was so looking forward to the trip. However by the time I arrived home I must say I was a little disillusioned. Main A Class roads with potholes at least 4 inches deep.  Then as I neared my destination there were queues of gigantic articulated forty or fifty ton lorries, some semi eighteen wheelers. The majority of them appeared to be left-hand drive leviathans with foreign plates, all seeming to heading towards my destination.

There is a Corby Transport Euro Hub in that direction.  I don’t like anything to do with the Euro anyway. Fortunately my SatNav came to my rescue and diverted me to the East to the old  part of Corby town, more like a village with a one way system and no parking.

Ten minutes to complete my business and I told my SatNav to take me home. Unfortunately the route home was ten miles further than the outbound and very busy traffic albeit coming towards me.

On the opposite side of the road was a broken down van who had one of those French traffic triangles in the road behind him while the poor driver was changing his punctured back wheel.

One of those horrendous 40 ton articulated monsters hurtled towards me.  I was about to describe it as a Pantechnicon but when I typed the word, my  predictive text altered the word to pandemic.  Probably a better description of those awful things being driven by crazy drivers on the clock.

Fortunately my recently fettled car had its ABS braking system checked and tested and when I slammed on my brake pedal, everything worked and I managed to stop in time for the lunatic driver to hurtle through the gap. He missed both the driver of the broken down van and my car with inches to spare.

It crossed my mind that had I been taken out by the oncoming lorry it would have been assumed that as I am old and had hardly driven for a year it was probably my fault.

Anyway I managed to complete my journey without too many incidents or the need to change my underwear.  I did divert to a favoured woodland walk for a breath of fresh air and a commune with nature to get my head in a more favourable place.

I decided that no way is it time to give up driving. It wasn’t that my driving skills had got rusty, I’d just forgotten that it’s normal to have to treat others in the road as potential killers. I also decided that if I need anything from Corby I’ll do it online.   

I remembered once I arrived home that the easing of lockdown had also meant that hand car washes had reopened.

I had used my pressure washer a few times during lockdown when the car was either covered in bird poo donated as a thank you by birds visiting your wife’s bird feeders and lately covered with half the Sahara desert sand diverted by the horrible weather.

I digress, I took my car to treat it to a full valet at my favourite car wash, which had also been shut down by Boris. We, that’s me and Lexie were greeted like long lost friends by some really, happy to be back at work, East Europeans who were working frantically like, well, East European car washers.

Lexie is happy,  parked looking shiny and unblemished with wheels gleaming like new and I have promised her an outing next Monday when I’m back in the gym after being AWOL for over a year.  What will it be first?  Treadmill, cross trainer, spin bike, rowing machine, exercise machines, free weights, followed by a visit to the spa.

Will it be a swim and then a laze in the hot tub and meet all my long lost buddies.  Am I really looking forward to getting out of bed for a 6am start and a three hour workout?  You bet I am.

As Captain Tom Moore said “Tomorrow will be a better day”!

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Further Travails of a Travel Writer

What a year the last six months has been!  Coronavirus has changed our world, we hope that once we return to normal it will have changed into a kinder, much nicer place with love thy neighbour being nearer to the norm.  Meanwhile unless we are one of the essential services which includes food shops and rubbish clearance along with the more obvious ones, the rest of us are staying at home, or working from home.

I perhaps am one of the odd ones, not only am I 84 years old and a type 2 diabetic, I am a fairly fit oldie who continues to work out regularly at my local gym and also swims in the spa, sort of retired but I have worked from home as a writer, author and journalist, for many years.  I still work when I feel like it and sell the stuff that I produce.

I did take the advice and my wife, and I placed ourselves into self-isolation some three weeks ago when the warning bells began ringing.  We are lucky enough to have brilliant and caring neighbours on all fronts who see to all our needs.  They make me feel very humble and I just cannot seem to thank them enough.

During my first couple of weeks internment I decided to take up a friend’s challenge and put all my sailor’s yarns that I had regaled them with over the years, into a book.  I finished “Red Ensign – Blue Ensign (The Young Man of the Sea)” several weeks ago.  So, casting around in my head for ideas, here begineth the next lesson.  It doesn’t have a title yet but it’s my life as a travel journalist.

I’ve been a writer for many, many years and wrote for many different outlets.  I wrote Staff Handbooks for an events management company who ran motor racing events at Donnington and Silverstone.  Horse racing events at Ascot, Windsor, Newbury and Cheltenham.  County shows as far apart as Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.  Stellar Artois Concerts in Oxford Jail, Sunderland Docks et al.  During this time, I volunteered my services to our local hospital NHS Federation and have spent years writing, amending and rewriting patient’s handbooks.  You get the picture, I write, right?

I became a travel writer by accident I suppose you could say.  One of my closest friends who worked for me in the motor trade, decided, virtually at the same time that I sold my garage.  He made up his mind that his future was to be in Canada and was to move to British Columbia.  We threw him a leaving party and it was there I met the guy who sold the family their tickets.  This chap ran a ticket bucket shop, sourcing the cheapest flight tickets and the customers found him.  He did this very much as a part time pocket money alongside his full-time job as an animal feed salesman.

I had the cash from selling my business, was looking for ideas, he declined my offer of a partnership but kindly provided me with hundreds on sources and contacts and allowed me to pick his brains.  We lived over twenty miles apart so were not in any way competition and I set up my “Bucket Shop” which I named Assured Travel, based in the hallway of my house and it took off.  I quickly rented some serviced offices in Bedford and then had an idea that I could franchise the business.

This was before the internet got off the ground but I sourced a specialised programme whose name I can no longer remember that allowed each of my franchised outlets to send in their travel bookings direct to our central office where we took over the booking, dealt with the client direct and paid 80% of the profit to the franchisee.  My son and I were recruiting new franchisees and monthly virtually took over a large hotel in Northampton where we spent time and money both entertaining and teaching them all the tricks of the trade.  No-one paid for their franchise until the end of the three days and thankfully we had nobody drop out.

Within two years we had 109 Franchises covering the UK and everybody was making a good living.  Two or three Franchisees managed to get on board with their local MEP’s who seemed to always be flying on a plane to somewhere on EU business.  I got the impression that inflated receipts may have been involved but my side of the transaction would always stand up to scrutiny.  Another Franchisee was making a fortune providing Muslims passengers with British Airways tickets to the Hajj in Mecca. Plus, other flights concerned with the seven steps, like travelling to Mina and Mount Arafat.  I really have no understanding of Islam and its intricacies, but I know that they all favoured British Airways and it was good business.  It seemed each of our franchisees joined our operation as an individual entrepreneur with a plan of their own.  The success rather took me by surprise.

After some two years working very long hours at a nonstop pace.  Up to 18 hours a day can begin to take its toll.  In addition, I was finding that employing 14 members of staff was not a pleasant task.  Each member had their individual problem whether it was coming into work completely hung-over, or with a drug problem.  Another turned out to be a dirty old man and began stalking one of the prettier girls on the staff.  I had to sack him, but the stalking continued, and stronger measures needed to be taken.  Counselling of the girl did little good and I lost a good member of our team.  I now think that I would have been far better and had less problems if I had used agency staff.  However, I didn’t, and my problems continued.

I suppose I was vulnerable when one of my franchisees, incidentally an old Etonian, son on a knight of the realm, approached me with a proposition.  He then introduced me to his friend a former Merchant Banker (that means something appropriate in rhyming slang) His name was Smith, but he spelled it with a Y that should have told me something.  This first name was Jonathan, but he spelled it Jonathon, pretentious, moi?  Their initial proposal was that they would like to buy shares in my company.  I told them that I would think about it and take advice.  I put them off for a month or so.  Their next approach was to tell me that the Merchant banker was involved in a Travel Agency owned by a heavy metal rock band.  They had bought a small travel agency situated on the bank of the Thames near Putney Bridge and used it to buy the travel needs of the band and it had expanded so that they had a lucrative business providing travel for dozens maybe hundreds of other rock bands.  All this under the financial advice of our friend the “Merchant Banker”.

He told us that he had bought this travel company as they were too busy to run it, however he was still going to provide favourable travel prices for all the rock bands.  It turns out that he had purchased the business on a promissory note.  He then approached me with offer of merging the two businesses and using our operation as a model for franchising.  His idea was to concentrate on London for members.  My son and I would solely be responsible for advertising and recruiting and training and would be paid a couple of thousand a month each, as consultants.  On top of that they would purchase the Company paying ten thousand a month over two years.

Have you heard the saying that if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t?  You may also have heard the cockney rhyming slang “Merchant Banker”, well it’s spot on!

Things appeared to run like clockwork for about three months, and then they decided that the company didn’t need two bases and as the property in Putney was owned outright it didn’t make sense to be paying a high rent in Bedford.  All the Bedford team were offered jobs in London, none took up the offer, thus negating any severance pay.  The complete office in Bedford, computers, desks, chairs plus, plus even the coffee machine and the microwave oven.  I had no idea this had happened until a week later.  Mea Culpa! Bells were ringing but my son and I were still being paid and the merchant banker appeared to be keeping to his forecast.  Until that is got a telephone call from the lady who had run the Putney operation saying that the two villains appeared to have disappeared with over £800,000 of client’s money and provided no tickets.  My phone didn’t stop ringing from disgruntled franchisees who were having to cope with angry clients.  Some of them had covered the debts personally.  I reported what had happened to the police, (no comment) probably a civil matter sir but we’ll look into it.  That week we learned that the evil pair had instructed a firm of auditors to wind up the insolvent Limited Company.  I contacted the auditors to inform them that all of the computers, desks, chairs, plus, plus microwave and coffee machine were my personal property.  I was politely informed, too late they’ve been auctioned off already, you will have to take your place in the queue behind the tax man and the banks.

When all the laundry was done all that happened was that those two naughty boys were barred from being directors of any company for ten years.  Neither any franchisee nor my son and I came out with a penny.  Now anyone who knows my history as a member of a Special Forces group will know that I have friends in funny places.  I went with my family on a holiday to America and for some unknown reason I kept every receipt for every hire car, fuel, restaurant, even cups of coffee.  I don’t know why I did that, funny habit I suppose.

Oddly enough the merchant banker had obviously made a lots of enemies and three unknown men visited him at his Kent Oast House that was surrounded by paddocks, loose boxes and general equestrian show jumping and others for lunging.  All of course belonging to the tosser’s wife.  Anyway, the visitors taught him not do it again.  I do remember my lovely wife saying, before our holiday when my hot head began issuing threats, something to the effect that it wasn’t worth doing jail time for revenge and if I did, she would leave me.  Obviously. I wouldn’t do anything so stupid, as I value my marriage.  End of!  I now had to pick myself off the ground.

I had spent so much time and effort into the travel business that my head steered me in that direction.  I had all of my notes that I used during our training and recruitment sessions, I was a writer, so I wrote a book on how to become your own travel agent from home.  I paid a vast sum to a vanity publishing company and had twenty books published that I could test the water with.  I spent a further thousand pounds on advertising the book and after a month had sold three copies at £25 each.

My head was in a turmoil, where do I go next?  It was then that I had a telephone call, via the publisher.  It was from another publisher, he asked me to come to his hometown, Brighton where he would treat me to lunch and put a proposition to me that would make us both very wealthy.  He wouldn’t disclose his proposal further, he just asked what had I to lose, just the fuel to get to Brighton?  Now I had just suffered at the hands of a con man and suffered quite a kicking.  I considered it carefully for an hour, called him back and arranged to meet him for lunch.

Brighton, in the miserable, pouring rain, found me in a very nice restaurant chatting to a very fired up individual.  All of my international maritime signal flags were flying in my head, such as U for uniform – You are standing into DANGER, and B for bravo – I am taking on a dangerous item.  B is a red burgee flag known for obvious reasons as BANG.  My goodness you would be amazed at what goes on in my head. 

In spite of my wariness I accompanied him back to his offices and I came away having, both signed legal agreements protecting both of us from evil.  In short, he was the owner and publisher of a monthly magazine for entrepreneurs called ‘Business Opportunity World’, my book was to be printed by them and would be advertised in the magazine in a full page advert every month at a staggering price of £70 a shot.  All of this at no cost to me and all the customers would be handled in-house.  All I had to do was sit back and collect the royalties from the sales.  My agreed share was £50 a book.  No, I took it with a pinch of salt too, but in the first month of the advert appearing my bank was credited with nearly £2,000 and each month, give or take a few sales this appeared to be the normal amount.  As time went by, I agreed to look into my experiences for new subjects to write other books.  For instance, I had spent nearly twenty years in the motor trade, so my book on being a motor dealer working from home appeared and also had a full-page advert in the magazine.  This was nowhere as lucrative as the travel book, but it swelled my coffers a bit more.  I knew that this pleasant state of affairs wasn’t going to last forever, and my brain was turning to other ideas.

I had the office manager as a regular contact at Business Opportunity World and the end came more suddenly than expected.  He called me with the bad news that seemed rather familiar.  The boss had disappeared, and the company had the receivers in.  We met up and I was saddened to discover that my publisher friend with the great ideas, had been ripping me off with the royalties.  In fact, around half of what I was due, was paid directly into a Spanish bank account each month.  In fact, he had possibly gone to Spain in order to disappear.  I can’t say that I felt a great sense of betrayal this time, I certainly felt no need to send ‘the boys’ in.  I was just saddened.

Anyway, lesson learned.  I was going to continue to be self-employed on the grounds that I am unemployable with my smart mouth (I’m told) and the inability to take orders.  I am not going to enter into any partnership with anyone.  I am not going to employ any staff, period!  During the three years of living in the land of milk and honey at Opportunity World I had been planning for the exodus. I had friendly relationships set up and nourished contacts at some twenty national newspapers.  My first assignment sold my tale of my two rip offs at £200 per 1,000 words.  The story sold and was published nationwide.  I had an idea and outlets.

Softly, softly catchee monkey, or as they preach in Special Forces the adage of seven P’s, namely Proper Planning and Preparation, Prevents Piss Poor Performance.  The shock of the mild expletive help makes the adage memorial.  Useful, when training for life-or-death situations! I was going to train myself as a Travel Writer/journalist., with a camera!

Oh yes, c’est moi

Step one, I bought a new camera, my old SLR 35mm camera was just too cumbersome to carry all day so I decided to treat myself to one of the latest digital single lens reflex camera. I suppose I spent a month holding, fondling and falling in love with my new acquisition.  Buying a couple of very expensive lenses and taking lots of photos but always using it on fully automatic.  The results were brilliant, if I say so myself.  I then went off on an assignment to Snowdonia taking the DSLR on a trial run and I’m totally infatuated.

I first got into photography in the 1960s when I had a dark room and developed my own results.  I had a sailing colleague who owned a chemist/camera shop that also dealt with second-hand cameras.  I changed cameras with his help, moving up from a simple Ilford Sportsman 35mm through many different makes and formats via a Rolleicord, a Rolleiflex twin lens reflex and even a Hasselblad 500C.  Most of them would be worth a small fortune today.

In those days you will have gathered I had become quite a camera buff and knew of such things as depth of field, focal lengths and f stops.  I’m not sure if it is laziness, old age or just that I had become so used to using point and shoot cameras that such things have become a foreign language to me.

Amazon sent me an email offering a special deal on a Masterclass for the DSLR camera and I resisted the temptation, but not quite long enough to delete the email into spam and I took up the offer of a full day Masterclass.  I’m such an easy target for anything that takes my interest, and off course I was going to be a travel journalist.  I have no idea how Amazon knew that I could be in the market for such an offer, but it is slightly frightening, could my purchase of an SD card reader have put my name on a target list?

Come the day, cometh the man as they say, and today I found myself in the village of Maddingly, just outside Cambridge attending the promised Masterclass.  There were about a dozen very mixed bunch of students of various ages and sizes.  One young lady had flown in that morning from Dublin just to take part and was flying home the same evening. Probably the only thing that we had in common apart from a keenness to learn was the fact that each was clasping a digital single lens reflex camera.

James (that’s a nice name and a good start), our tutor had been a professional photographer for many years with an impressive portfolio and a CV that included working with the famous Peruvian photographer Mario Testino OBE who is now a firm favourite of our Royal Family as well as Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Needless to say, that was this wimp intimidated before we started.

Repeat after me; I must never switch my camera on to automatic, ever again!  I now know all there is to know about Depth of Field, Focal Length, f Stops, Shutter Speeds and how to and when to use them.  Seriously, a really good Masterclass that we spent both in the classroom and outside, putting our newfound knowledge into practice.  I learned everything that I went for, and a lot more.

I won’t promise never to switch my camera on to fully auto, but I will use the other priorities whenever I can improve my photos.  I have promised my wife that three lenses are sufficient for my needs (at the moment) but I haven’t told her that when I got home from school I went online to Adobe and ordered a computer programme called Photoshop Lightroom because well . . . . . . . . I needed it.

Right, now I’m armed and dangerous!  I picked a destination that at least I could write about, Snowdonia, North Wales.  It was a bit of a cheat really because I’ve been a climber for most of my life.  I fact I’d cut my teeth climbing with the likes of Chris Bonington, Don Whillans and Joe Brown on some of the most difficult grades especially on the Llanberis Pass.  I have memories of climbing some firsts (new routes) with Don Whillans on Cemetery Gates and Cenotaph Corner when we both got gripped up (freezing up with our knees shaking).  Anyway, I digress, all I am saying is that I’m starting my new career in a place that I know like the back of my hand.  I know all the right pubs, I know all the climber’s hangouts and hostels, I even have my favourite barmaids.

I can remember one of my chums teasing our barmaid who was the spitting image of Dylan Thomas’s Gossamer Beynon (“O beautiful,  beautiful Gossamer B”), by telling her in a pseudo Welsh accent “I really love Wales” and when she agreed with a big smile he went on “Yes, honestly, I’ve watched Moby Dick at least ten times”. It gave us all a laugh, probably helped by the local bitter.

I could have written a 5,000-word article without leaving the confines of my own home.

That would have been useful during the Coronavirus lockdown.  What I am really saying is that wherever you decide to roam, if you adopt the Special Forces adage of the seven P’s and do as extensive research as possible before you leave home, you will be able to produce an acceptable article that Editors will love to publish, even if God forbid you were to be in lockdown on the deserts of Oman.  With modern technology you can submit your article from literally anywhere in the world!

That’s how I began my new career, I certainly didn’t make a fortune, but I made a steady income from both my articles and my photography.  I sometimes travelled to places, at the suggestion of a magazine or newspaper editor.  In which case I would find my ticket waiting at the airport and my destination hotel booked and paid for.  Usually on those assignments I seldom wasted any time acquiring all the information and photos I needed and then usually typing my article on my trusty laptop on the flight home, all ready for the next publication.  If I were to decide that I was going to choose my own destination it was done at a far more leisurely pace these took much longer but were far more profitable.  I could sell my stuff to as many as 20 or thirty eager editors.  They are always looking for their next space filler that in turn would keep their advertisers happy.  That’s enough of my reminisces.  Now let me pass on a little of what I’ve learned.

So, you want to become a Travel Writer?

First of all, have fun, but if you are travelling hallway around the world just to make money, stay home!  You can get paid for writing about things in your own backyard!

On the other hand , if you have a burning desire to experience the exotic, the foreign and the faraway, and make money, then pack your camera and your laptop.  Remember to add an extra bag with your luggage to pack every receipt for every penny that you spend.  Your accountant will love you.

You can travel wherever you want, write about it, photograph it, and get paid.  Deduct the costs from your taxes and have fun all at once. Just make sure that you have the fun bit.  The work that you do in the three weeks after your trip is critical.  You have to get your promised articles and the photographs to the editors in that time.  This has to be your priority.

Next in your priority are post-trip queries, newspaper articles and re-sales.  In fact, any extra sales you can squeeze out of those golden days on the road.

Your final manuscript has to go three stages of development before they are ready.

Blocking

This is not the actual writing – you simply take a sheet of blank paper and list. Set out your article’s components in the order you are going to use – this will create a road map for you that will make your writing faster and more purposeful.

Break up your article into segments under sub-headings.  If a quote would make a good lead, note it first – follow that with a short transitional paragraph, then a fact, then an anecdote etc…  Keep this up , sketching out the article or outlining it in detail.

Start a new page for each article you block and file each page in a separate folder.

Roughing

You are then ready to rough out – this is getting your first drafts – this is where I begin plugging away on my word processor.  Get out you ‘blocking sheets’, spread out their facts, interviews and other elements from your trip – convert your rough draft data and words into organised text that you outlined in your blocking, without much regard for spelling, punctuation or grammar.

As you finish one article move on to the next – keep plugging away and adding notes to yourself for when you are editing, keep going, get it down on paper and move on. Don’t worry too much about layout and paragraphs.

Editing

This is the most time-consuming task as you turn your crude stone into a polished gem, using all of the tools that are built into your word processor.  Spell checker, grammar checker, thesaurus.  Lay out your paragraphs and pages until your manuscript takes shape.  Here endeth the first draft!  Your manuscript after the hours of work that you have put into it, is beginning to take shape and it may look nearly finished – it isn’t , it is in draft form.  Now the work is about to begin.

You now have to carefully proofread – It must be read out loud.  The first proofread, I do myself.  However, whether or not you get someone else to do it for you or not, you certainly need the second proofread done by a third party.   You will see the necessity of this when you see just how many mistakes your third-party proof-reader has found just when you felt in your own mind it was ready to go.

At this point you take another look at your target magazine.  Does your roughed article meet the parameters of its readers ? Does it make sense as composed?  Is it interesting?  Do the sections flow well?  Is there a proper blend of facts, quotes and anecdotes?  What is missing?  What would make the text better?  Is the tone consistent?  Is everything clear, concise and the topic focused?  Does it give the reader a full since of the place, can they feel it, taste it, smell it, could you make it better?

When you are satisfied, set the piece aside and let it sit for a couple of days before going back to read it again.  Read it right through, aloud, again and when you feel that it’s going to be as good as it is going to be – prepare it for the final draft by manipulating your word processor.  Make every effort to make certain that the manuscript when presented to the editor is as perfect as possible.  Any less would be an insult and just asking to be rejected.

At your word processor set it out in manuscript form – A4 sheet double spaced on one side only.  Print it out in high quality.  Even if you are going to present it to your editor on a disc, you need to present him with a high-quality hard copy, together with prints of your photographs that you have chosen for your article.

Working from home

Forgetting about the necessity of self-isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, your office as you travel the world, is wherever you and your laptop are at.  However, on your return home, if you are going to present your editors with acceptable copy.  It just will not work if you try to work in your living room in your armchair with your laptop perched on your lap.  I might feel pleasant after maybe being away from your loved ones to be able to stay in their company.  Even the distraction of a constant stream of snacks, being able to half watch a television programme as you work.  Let me tell you now – it just is impossible; it isn’t going to work.  You need to set up a designated space.

One of the great essentials for a writer is a comfortable and compatible place to work from, and ideally one that is a dedicated workspace.  When I began my new career, my wife and I were rattling around in a five bedroomed house.  Our son and daughter had moved out to grow their own families and I had the luxury of taking over a bedroom and converting it to a dedicated office.  When I wasn’t travelling, I was able to go to work each day by walking into my office and closing the door!  This gave me a certain discipline that took me away from the distractions and general hubbub of the home.

I needed that discipline and I tried to work set hours – I tried to avoid taking my wife to the shops or just popping out to visit a friend, when the temptation took me.  I also made sure that I avoided sitting around in my pyjamas all day.  I may have been dressed in shorts and a tee shirt or even a tracksuit , but always dressed so that I could at least answer the door without frightening the horses.  We have now downsized homes and I now no longer have the luxury on a whole room set aside as my office.  What I now have, which is more than adequate, is a dedicated home office, laid out in the corner of a bedroom and this is my workspace.  It is comfortable with room for my computer, printer and a telephone.  I am surrounded by my books and files – I have to be tidier than when I had a whole room as an office, but I can still step across the room and into my workspace – I am there to work and not be distracted by anything.  I try to set up a daily schedule that allows me to focus on work when my mind is set to it.

One of the greatest things about being a freelance travel writer, quite apart from the obvious delights of travelling and being paid for it is the complete freedom of being completely out of the daily rat race with no commuting to work each day – No boss, managers or foreman who would rule my life.  If I wish to, I can spend the day in tee-shirt and shorts, or even stay in my pyjamas IF-I-WANT-TO!  No-one looks at their watch if I spend overlong visiting the bathroom.  If I smoked and fancied a cigarette, I could smoke at my desk.  I can even pick up my telephone and phone my friend for a chat.

My self-discipline is such that I don’t do these things but that feeling that I could if I wanted to, is great.  Yet another incentive that makes me glad that I took that leap to freedom.  Some days just to heighten my awareness of this freedom from shackles, I make a conscious decision not to shave for two or three days on the trot if that’s not giving the finger to convention at least it makes me feel as free at my work as when I am researching by snorkelling off a tropical beach – would you believe I work all the harder because I work for me and my family not as a wage slave to keep a boss in luxury.

To lead on from my declaration of independence and freedom it would seem a natural progression to mention . . . .

Taxes

Once you start earning money as a freelance travel writer there are certain administrative and legal steps you should take, such as filing taxes – keeping careful records and taking out insurance.  Whether you are writing, full time or part-time or even just weekends and evenings after your proper job, you will need to register with the Inland Revenue as being self-employed.  You must register within three months of receiving your first cheque, regardless of how small it may be.  Otherwise you will incur a fine of £100 and you card will be marked forever.  You will also have to pay your own National Insurance once your travel writing income reaches £4,215 a year.  Once you register with the Inland Revenue you should make an appointment and visit them and talk over all of your options as a newly self-employed writer.  They will explain the self-assessment Tax returns you are now liable for. (Go to www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/starting up.  That is the nasty bit there is a sweeter part.

I spoke of setting up your own dedicated office and the need to keep all of your bills and receipts.  You need a powerful computer, printer, scanner and software – set the total cost against tax!  You need Broadband connection and monthly account – set the cost against tax! – and so on, et al.  The real sugar coating as far as I am concerned is that my airline tickets, Taxi, car hire and hotel bills are all necessary expenses to the travel writer and I bet that sticks in the craw of some of the clerks still slogging away in the rat race at the tax office.

I always imagine the conversation at the Inland Revenue;  Look at what this guy is claiming as expenses, two weeks in the Seychelles, Flight ticket, Taxi fare, Car hire, Hotel.  He is even claiming for eating out in an expensive restaurant and a bottle of wine n the name of research!  I keep every single receipt that I can possibly or even remotely put down as expenses for research.  Another necessary evil that you need to splash out on but is also claimable as a legitimate expense is Travel Insurance.  It is extremely important that you are fully covered

.  I have always taken out an Annual Multi-trip Worldwide Policy so that I am always covered even if I get a last-minute assignment, I don’t have to worry about that aspect.- I make sure that the policy covers me for world wanderer, trip disruptions and cancellations as well as the loss of equipment and baggage on top of medical emergencies.

Another expense that you may feel unnecessary but I’m not clever enough to forego is that of an accountant.  I use a big enough name that the Tax Man accepts his word on most things and every three months or so I empty my bag of receipts on to his desk, before taking him out for lunch, in a few days he lets me know if any receipt will be disallowed as expenses.  Guess what, the Tax Man not only covers the total cost of my accountant, he also allows the cost of both our lunches.  I may not have been very good at Mathematics at school but over the years you could say that I have become streetwise and I can count my profits.  Whatever you do, don’t forget to write, as of today I reckon to charge £200 per 1000 words and that is multiplied by each article published. 

I’ll never be a millionaire but I’m comfortable and happy.  I also have something to do with my time during Covid-19 outbreak and like to think that I will have a list of likely Editors in this short piece.  Hmmm! That’s 6,000 words at £200 per 1000, equals £1,200, times say 20 newspapers and magazines that could be £24,000 and at the time when people are becoming weary of the only articles being about the virus and death totals it could be an attractive item .  I did mention that I am streetwise, didn’t I?  Now what am I going to write next while I’m incarcerated?  I think it may be on how Covid-19 boredom has given me a bad spending habit and my toybox is overflowing!

Here endeth my survival lesson during COVID19 but that’s just me.  Sorry it’s been so long but the lockdown has been going on and on and on!

 

 

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