A day after the Navy lads booked in we had another patient come in ,a young man from Liverpool. He was unconscious when he arrived on the ward ;under his coverings he looked quite large. The screens were quickly pulled round as the nurses ministered to his needs. He came to around tea time and everyone was on their best behaviour because we had been informed that he was a Roman catholic priest. Soon after his awakening ,a portly ,older man came in to visit him ,this was Father Boyle ,his mentor. The young man was?nt yet a priest but was at a seminary on the north eastern side of Lisbon; Father Boyle was from Birkenhead and he had a lovely soft Liverpudlian accent. He was a round man, thinning sandy hair topped a kindly ,ruddy face in which were set a pair cornflower blue eyes. He exuded happiness , not a practising christian, I could sense his innate goodness, his hearty laugh rippled round the ward as he spoke with his young charge. I seem to recall that the ?apprentice? was called John. He was moved to the bed beside me because the nurses thought he would enjoy being with someone from his home town. I had no objection to that.
Heretofore I had only had dealings with sky pilots at a remove ,they in their pulpits and I under duress in a pew. John was very different, he was from Aigburth and was a grammar school graduate ,very down to earth and not at all unctuous. I was able to relax in his company , he never remarked on the odd gentle oath but we did not push things further. The older men were happy to have him there too. Our little Portugese maids were so attentive to his every need ,they worshipped him. The nurses however worshipped Gamal.
Scarlett was very open with me when I asked her why she was working in Portugal, surely the wages were better in England?
?No? she replied ?we did?nt come out here for a wage, we came out to nail a bloody doctor ?
? What d?you mean ? I asked.
?We are the girls who never got a doctor on the National Health so we?ve come out here for one. There?s a big American airbase nearby and we might get one there ,if not we?ll settle for a local here?
My mouth must have been agape.
?Hey kiddo ,I?ve got an Airforce surgeon that far away from the hook? she laughed ,holding her thumb and forefinger a smidgin apart.
I loved , Scarlett ,warm and earthy,I was much too young for her,but she treated me like a young confidant. One of the other Nurses ,Bobbie, was absolutely beautiful,but like an ice maiden, not unpleasant, but cool and very gracious. Gamal loved her but she had eyes only for the senior surgeon. The Little Sparrow , a spotty ,but very shy young nurse from the Home Counties had a crush on Gamal; I knew because Scarlett told me. In a moment weakness I told Gamal.
He did the unexpected , that night as the Little Sparrow came around the beds with her thermometer, when she came to Gamals bed , he clasped her hand as she held the thermometer to his mouth ,and said sofltly in his coffee and cream voice ? Oh my Little Sparrow, if only you knew how much comfort your presence brings me?
She nearly fainted, from across the ward I could see the blood rush up the nape of her neck and she turned away with crimsoned cheeks,her eyes like glittering sapphires.
We stifled our giggles ,but Gamal was sincere, he knew it would lead to nothing ,he just wanted her to feel good about herself.
And the there was Paddy, my nurse. She was from the North of Ireland ,a Donegal woman, good plain features, built for the job, she was the earthiest of the lot. She would give me bed baths and linger overlong beneath the sheets, her hands doing things that I could no more stop her doing than drawing breath. She would lean into to me as she washed my top. ? I?m going to have you boyo, an? yer?ll know about when I do!!? laughing as she said so.
She was a tease.
Paddy the Irish sailor told me to go and see the consul when I was mobile ,he reckoned I could get hardship money, it gave me something to think about. It would be a few days yet before I would be fit for walking and by now I was really ready to see the city. I had gleaned so much information from the nurses and the sailors .it seemed it was going to be a great place to be.
Two days before the weekend , Scarlett whispered to me, as she was doing my temperature , that she had managed to persuade her surgeon to take her to across the River Tagus , to a little seaside resort where the Portugese held their film festivals. ?He won?t know what?s hit him ? she chuckled sexily.
A little later ,when father Boyle was at the next bed, John said something to him and when Scarlett was passing him to leave the ward, he called out ,?I hear you?re away for a few days Nurse O?hara ??
?Yes ? she answered ?And I?m glad I?m not a Catholic? she laughed,
dashing through the door.
Father Boyles face was a picture of puzzlement. As she came back in he followed her around the room with his eyes and she avoided them until she was about to leave. ?Why are you glad you?re not a Catholic? ? he asked innocently.
?Because I won?t have to confess what I?ve been up to when I get back? she giggled ,rushing away.
Fathers Boyles rubicund features glowed redly and we chortled beneath our blankets.
John would be leaving for the seminary on Monday and Robin and I were given the O.K. for going out for a few hours. But the weekend was not without its diverion. Rosalina , the youngest of our maids was getting married. She always seemed a plain little soul ,her black plaited coiled above her ears , lay above
an olive coloured skin that had never had make up applied to it her thick black eyebrows almost met above an aquiline nose. But she was not ugly ,far from it,
she had an honest open face with jet black eyes that glittered like coals.
Next morning ,just after elevenses ,there was a commotion in the street ,we could hear a fiddle and an accordian and the sound of merry laughter; soon the sound was within the hospital and we heard them ascending the stairs. Of a sudden Rosalina stood in the ward doorway ,radiant in a white veiled wedding dress ,a colourful bouquet to her breast and a proudly smiling new husband at her side. We stood and clapped as they walked around the ward ,musicians behind playing the happiest of sounds. I felt pleasantly moved, being allowed to be a part of their conjoined happiness. The sounds faded in the distance and soon we sat in our own little silences ,I ,wondering what was to become of them.
We never saw Rosalina again, the cook ,her boss ,told us that Rosalina would now lead a peasant life , working and having babies. Well, she had one day at being a queen.
After breakfast on Monday morning , Angelina ,the girl who had taken Rosalinas? place ,helped me dress to go?ashore?. It seemed like an age since I had worn a suit ,in fact it was little more than a week. Robin never had any ?civvies? and so wore his fore and aft gear,and very smart he looked too.The ladies clapped as he donned his round steaming revvy.
We attracted a lot of attention walking into town, you don?t get very many Royal Navy sailors in the Rato district, we strolled down the Rua de Salitre ,past the Botanical Garden s and on to what was then. The Avenida Marques de Pombal, quite the most spectacular avenue in Europe. The wide tree lined pavements were patterned with black and white mosaics, it had two reservation ,planted with palms with every junction having heroic statues to honour brave generals or the glorious dead. The buildings lining the pavement were in perfect accord with the avenida. We strolled in awe at the majesty of it all.
As we neared Black Horse Square (proper name Praca Dom Pedro 1V Rossio)
the sounds of traffic faded to silence. We could hear the sound of martial commands echoing around the square and the clash of steel and crash of heels as they stamped in unison. The scene before us as we entered the square was awesome in the proper meaning of the word, there were hundred of soldiers, rank after rank escorting a cortege of coffins that were being carried up from the waterfront at the Praca e Comercio. The pavements were thick with mourners and a military band blared out a mournful air. Heads bowed as the coffins passed by and a smartly dressed gentlemen ,noticing Robins uniform ,said in English, ?They are dead soldiers ,killed in Angola? his face wet with tears.
It took awhile before the procession passed and we were able to see the size of the square, it was enormous and in the centre was a huge equestrian statue of King Pedro on his charger.. As the square was clearing Robin nudged my elbow and said ?Look at that boy? and there on the pavement by the statue stood a vision of perfect loveliness. Like Anita Ekberg ,wearing a demure black dress and a black picture hat she would have looked perfect anywhere. She must have been a mourner, chic ,but a mourner. She started crossing and was walking in our direction ,I just stood and drank in her loveliness. Next thing she was in front of me, addressing me in Portugese. I shook my head and she saw Robin and then understood.
? I said can you take me into the caf?? she smiled questioningly.
I asked why and she told us that women were not allowed to enter cafes alone before midday. I was delighted to comply ,I only had a couple of pound but there were 80 escudos to the pound then and it was only 6 escudos for a coffee. We had caf? and pudim, a beautifully tasty custard tart. I must have eaten her with my eyes, so lovely was she. As we talked I reached across the table and touched the back of her hand ,she turned it and clasped mine. I felt a rush of blood and Robin leaned into me and whispered ?I?m gonna leave you two together mate?
He stood up and tipped his hat ,saluting goodbye.
I never got to know her name.
We walked and talked and all Lisbon went by in a blur, she said things I did?nt understand the words of but felt the meaning all to well. At length we came to the entrance of a very old building ,it was a laundry and she walked me past the streaming vats where women were bending and scrubbing, they gave her little smiles as we passed . What was she to them ? I never knew that either. All I know is that we ended up in a room filled with fluffy feather duvets where we consummated our mutual feelings, the sunshine filtering through the dusty windows turning her skin to gold. She was as skilful as she was loving and my afternoon was almost like a class in lovemaking. Who was she , a married woman ,a widow ?, I?ll never ,ever know ,but for one afternoon she took me to another world.
It took me forever to get back to the hospital ,and ,when I got there ,I could?nt tell Robin what had happened ,it would have cheapened something special.
That night I slept the sleep of the dead.
Robin was not allowed the same freedom of movement as myself so I often walked around the city on my own. There was much to see and I had oceans of time to see it all. On one of my visits to the consulate for some hardship money I was informed that I would have to wait until another Ellerman boat arrived on its homeward journey. The consul asked if I would like to leave the hospital and move into a dockside hotel, I asked if I would have to make my mind up there and then and he told me I could do what I wished. He did?nt mind where I stayed as long as he could contact me.
As it stood, I had to be at the hospital for evening meal , the cook liked me to be there for 6.30p.m. to make sure I was there for a meal and the Matron insisted that I was on the ward for 7.00p.m. ready for the evening medicine and temperature checks. If I left the hospital ,.it would?nt matter what time I got in. The hotel I would use was in the side streets near the sailor town. When I left the consulate I took the funicular down to the Rua de Boavista and walked to the Praca Dom Luis, the little square in the heart of Fiddlers Green,. The square was lined with bars, cafes , tailors, shoe shops ,brothels and cheap hotels. A sailors dream! I went into the first bar I came to and received a very warm welcome from the barman ,the place was empty ,but it was only about half past ten in the morning. I had a glass of beer and he asked for 9 escudos, 2 shillings and threepence in old money. A bit dear I thought , there were 80 escudos to the pound but a pint of bitter at home only cost about 7.5 p then(!/6d in old money)
The barman spoke excellent English and he asked me what ship I was off, I told I had been in hospital and was waiting for a ship. He went to the cash register and came back with some escudos, six of them. ? For DBS you price is Portugese price?
As the ?ladies? drifted in he told them who I was and they came and sat by me.
They were so friendly, not your usual dockside harpy. Some young Portugese men came in and I was introduced to them too. They were ?trade? , when the cruise liners came in they would attend to the needs of the female holiday makers ,for a price. But there were no cruise ships in and it was so different for me to be sitting with these people ,sexual professionals and they were lovely. No business was mentioned .They were curious about my country, some of the younger ones were students who were earning the money to keep themselves at college.
I made particular friends with two of them and one of the girls who was called Elsa. I could have taken Elsa home and no one would have been aware of how she made her money. Clean and open faced ,she had a ready smile ,and a kind heart, more of which later.
The barman told me that two English seamenm sometimes came in for a drink in the afternoon ,they were DBS?s too .Their hotel was in the square and he thought I might like to meet them. Almost on cue the two lads came in, they looked very unkempt, it had been awhile since they had a bath by the look of it.
Their shirts were soiled and they both looked as though they could do with a good meal. I bought them a beer each and then they took me to the hotel.
It was a fleapit, they had grubby sheets on the beds, just a sink in the room and a bathroom that was so squalid you would?nt want to use it.
That little visit settled me on staying in the hospital, what was a few hours off the evening compared to living in squalor. I had my good times before 6.00.pm. ,I enjoyed being pampered too much.
When I was having dinner that evening ,Patricia came as usual and I told her
that I would be there for the foreseeable future; she seemed very pleased.
I mentioned my visit to the port and she was agog ?Tell me more? she said.
She had never been to the red light district and asked me to tell her all about it.
The idea of women buying the services of a gigolo seemed outrageous to her, but I could see that it intrigued her.
It was toward the end of my second week on the ward that John ,the apprentice priest was discharged, he came and shook hands with us all ,as did Father Boyle. On their way out of the ward father Boyle stopped and came back tome ?If you?re still here next week I?ll come and take you out for the day? he said.
I said that I would look forward to that and went back to playing draughts with Robin.
Those evenings on the ward could be quite pleasant, we had a few board games ,an old radio, one of those huge valve jobs with a fascia like a church window.
It did?nt have a short wave so we left it tuned to a local commercial station. They had the most exuberant commentators and announcers (DJ was not a phrase in use then) The jingles they played were so insidious, once they got into your head they stayed there. I can still hear the most popular one ringing around inside my cranium even now .Phonetically it was like this ?Estund e ole oche ,estingo baico mais. Estundo ole oche , miasongo mais e mais !? you hear that twenty times a day for five weeks and you end up with it for life.
The music was pretty mixed ,mostly popular Portugese songs with some American pop music on the odd occasion. One of the nurses, I forget her name,
liked Fado, she was into Portugese culture in a very big way. I had never heard of Fado and she explained that there were many different types of Fado music. She brought a record player a put some on , it is an acquired taste, it is the music of yearnings and the singers of it are passionate. Not as raucous as the Spanish flamenco singers ,the Portugese celebrate ,lament ,love ,happiness, death and sadness. It was something that I came to enjoy , the singers are usually accompanied by a guitarist and a mandolin player and the sounds are never less than beautiful.
The Portugese are an ardent people, given to great flourishes , their towns and their villages reflect this ,they love colour and the Jardim Estrela was one such place that I could sit and enjoy it all for free. The Jardim ,or park ,was on my route to town, it had brilliantly coloured gardens ,full of fuchsias , estrelitzas,
Poinsettias and many other plant from Portugals overseas possessions..There is a little lake in the middle of the park and beside it is a caf?. I would stop by every morning for a caf? cognac and a look at the life around me, Mama teal and her ducklings would be swimming across the lake while some Nannys? and their charges would throw them tidbits. An old Gentlemen would sit at the same glass topped table everyday and would be painting some wonderful scene from his imagination . He would spend the entire day there ,for this was my way back to the hospital ,by 5.30 the picture would be complete; it was never less than perfect, and then he would wipe it clean. It was sad in a way ,to see such beauty erased with a wipe ,but he always had an audience.
After my morning coffee I would get a tram outside the gate and go down to the Arsenal and walk the short distance to the Praca Dom de Luis, I was becoming a regular.
On this morning Elsa suggested I buy myself a hat, the shop was only a door or two away and she went with me to that I did?nt buy the wrong one or get cheated.
It was great fun trying on all those ?lids?, in the end she decided that the silver snap brim with the wonderful pheasant feather suited me best. It never left my head for years, wish I still had it, it got blown away by sudden gust of wind the month Kennedy got shot.
When we strolling across the great square on the waterfront ,the Praca do Commercio ,a street photographer with an old bellows and glass plate camera took my picture and developed it ,framing it within a photograph of a television so that I looked as though I were on screen . Such simple days then ,when I showed it to people at home they thought I had actually been on T.V.
While we were walking up to Black Horse Square we passed a little shop which was selling militaria and there in the middle of the window display was a large picture of Adolf Hitler, there were several smaller pictures of him around it as well as bouquets of flowers. I looked at Elsa with amazement. She said that Salazar ,the President still celebrated Hitlers birthday every year. ?This is a Fascist country Brian? I had known in a general way before I came ,but I did?nt know the reality. I was to learn very much more before it came time to leave.
Cascais and Estoril
Father Boyle arranged to take Robin and I, together with the ?apprentice? John,out for a days sightseeing.
They turned up just after breakfast ,their car was an old Volkswagen Beetle but we were not perturbed ,we were too excited at having days guided tour.
We set off through those honey coloured streets,the walls awash with sunshine: Father Boyle pointing out places of interest as we sped by. We were heading for the waterfront and I began to recognise some of the places I had been frequenting.,it was too early to see the ?ladies? touting for business,the sweepers were busy cleaning up the detritus of the previous night roistering.
We drove along to Belem, a wonderful place ,there on the rivers edge stood one of Europes finest monuments ,the Padrao des Descobrimentos ,this was a new edifice ,completed just one year before and it was to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death Prince Henry the Navigator, the man who was primarily responsible for sending the like of Magellan, Da Gama and all of those other mariners on their voyages of discovery..The monument is very tall and is situated at the edge of a plaza that has a compass mosaic with a 150 foot diameter in the middle. It has to be viewed from above and I was not to view that compass properly until 46 years later when I ascended the tower with my wife in the summer of 2007. Just along from the monument is the picturesque Tower of Belem, this was a fort that was built, along with more just like it, in the 16th century for the defence of Portugals coast line. Age had not weathered it , it looked white and pristine in the morning sun. We then headed up from the waterfront to the hills ,the roads became shaded by the pine trees that forested the land on either side . Up and up we rose until at last we were on a plateau and there, in front us was a huge stadium, almost like the Colosseum in Rome. It was built of a grey coloured stone and was brutal looking in the fascist style. Father Boyle informed us that it had been erected during the Spanish civil war and the refugees from that conflict had been used as slave labour on its construction It was eerie ,we went inside and I was reminded of those old newsreels I had seen of the Nuremburg rallies, everything was done in the style that Hitler and Mussolini had imposed on their countries. This truly was a fascist dictatorship. Estado Nuovo,the New State.
Father Boyle said that this stadium would never see an Olympic Games because of the manner in which it was built. I think time has proved him right.
When I went to Portugal in 2007 my questions as to the whereabouts of the stadium were met with puzzlement ,has it been pulled down? I never found out.
We then descended to the coast,gently gliding down the twisting road, the engine started to cough and splutter and we shuddered to a halt against the embankment.
What do we do now? Father Boyle told us not to worry ?The Lord will provide? he smiled . ? You will soon see the power of the cloth? He got out of the car and stood by the front fender.
The road was silent save for the rustling of the trees and the chatter of the birds, in the distance came the sound of an engine labouring uphill. Soon a little saloon came into sight and the driver seeing the priest pulled in astern of us and came and spoke in Portugese . He was wearing a light grey suit and collar and tie. Looked like travelling salesman; after a short conflab, man went to the boot of his car and fetched some tools. Within minutes he was tieless, jacketless and stuck deep into the vitals of the Beetles engine.
Robin and I sat having a cigarette whilst all this went on and John and Father Boyle chatted to the man in his own language.
Within about twenty minutes the man was restarting our engine pronouncing the problem solved. Father Boyle gave him a cloth to wipe his hands and the man restored his clothing, knelt in front of Father Boyle who then gave him a blessing.
I was amazed, it was true about the power of the ?Cloth?, Father Boyle said his soutane was better than an AA membership .
We continued on our way to our next stop which was Estoril. It was a sleepy little place then, the Casino ,which I had read about in a James Bond novel a few months earlier, just up from the beach , there was another of the Forts we had seen at Belem and then there was a wide sandy beach dotted with picnickers, Father Boyle said that these were the English aristocracy, Estoril practically belonged to them . We stopped for some refreshment at an English tea room which would not looked out of place in Eastbourne, lace curtains on the window and the copper kettle sign above the door. And yes, the waitresses were dressed in black and white outfits with the little lace caps a la Lyons corner house.
We had tea and buttered scones and then resumed our stroll.The beach was part of an elongated bay which reached into the next little resort of Cascais. There were fishing boats beached on the sand and the fishermen were unloading their catch under the watchful eye of a customs man ,Father Boyle told us that the fish were treated as imports and that the fishermen had to pay duty on their catch. It seemed so unfair.
As we stood looking at the scene ,one of the picnickers who sat nearby in a nearby group, walked across to me, they had noticed Robin in his fore and aft rig and were looking quite put out by our presence. He was a fat oily man ,cashmere sweater draped around his shoulders, desert boots and cavalry twill ,upper class to his fingertips. ?I say ? he murmured, ?what is he doing here? ? he asked, pointing to Robin . ? He?s on a package holiday mate? I shot back at him. He scampered across to his group and you could see the fear spread through them as he imparted the awful news. The revolution was here!
It was a beautifully unspoiled place ,and to some extent ,it still is today ,the Benidorm effect has not yet reached that little corner of Portugal.
We took a slow drive down the coast back to Lisbon where we left the two fathers and had a jar or two down in sailor town before going back to the Hospital for our evening meal.
Robin was sent home a day later so I was back on my own, free to do as I wished of a day time, I was getting used to this languid existence. Nothing to do but enjoy myself.
Farewell to Portugal
I thought my days would lonely without Robin, I was wrong ,being free to decide where I went led me to seeing more of Lisbon than I would have done otherwise. I used to leave the hospital right after breakfast every morning. ,the stroll down to the Jardim da Estrela was part of my morning routine. A demitas of caf? and a look at the newly hatched ducklings cruising on the pond were de riguer, the old artist would nod to me as he commenced his days masterpiece on the glass topped table. All was well with the world in that small park.
There was a tram stop just beyond the park gates and I would sometimes catch one down to the port ,they were single deckers and were ancient then ,all polished woodwork and gleaming brass inside and painted green ,cream and gold outside
Those trams were a microcosm of Portugese society, there were three crew to each tram , the driver ,conductor and the labourer. Yes ,labourer. Both the driver and conductor had a uniform which consisted of a white shirt ,black tie ,black jacket ,grey trousers and a peaked cap with the tram company?s badge on. The labourer wore a blue bib and brace, blue overall jacket and a soft cap made out of the same material as the overall. His job was to clear stones out of the track and to swing the pantograph round at the terminus. Both the driver and the conductor grew the fingernail on the little finger of their right hand to a size that was about half an inch longer than their fingertip. This distinguished them from their labourer colleague; he used o stand at the rear of the tram and was never involved in conversation by either of his two colleagues. This fingernail thing was widespread throughout Portugese society, workers of anything but the labouring classes all sported the extend nail on their pinkie, manual labourers were forbidden to do so.
The ?gigolos? that I drank with all had long little fingernails.
Three of there number seemed quite radical , they were always looking over their shoulders as though they were under surveillance and ,once they thought it was safe to do so, would tell me of the unrest that was simmering away among the workers. I thought that they were being over dramatic and took everything that they said with a pinch of salt.
One afternoon when I was with them, one of the P.& O . liners was alongside in Belem. The bar I frequented in sailortown was full of women off the ship, the type of ladies you would see at a hunt ball, dressed in a casually elegant style , they were after the gigolos. As I was amongst them , I got chatted up by a very lovely lady and I was young enough to wonder what on earth she was doing paying for something that I would have willingly done for free. It was when I opened my mouth to ask her for her name that she realised that I was not a bona fide professional , she blushed and fled the bar.
One morning as I meandered into town via the Avenida Marquese da Pombal I heard the sound of singing in the distance. It was almost like a sea shanty, one voice would sing out a verse and a mass of voices would sing the refrain. I could hear the sound of steel on stone. As I neared the songsters I saw that it was a chain gang. They were sat on the pavement in a line , manacled by the ankles ,legs spread wide apart and they were cutting marble blocks to make tessella ,this was the small blocks that made up the huge mosaics that patterned the boulevards pavements.
They were all shaven headed men, burnt deep brown by the sun , they swung their hammers in unison as they sang their heartfelt song. Perhaps this was what my gigolo friends were referring to, their overseers seemed very brutal.
Sometimes I would go to the cinema of an afternoon, the newsreels were incomprehensible to me being in Portugese ,but the message they carried was clear enough. President Salazar dominated every item of news as Hitler and Mussolini did in their time. He was shown opening power stations, laying foundation stones , reviewing troops , laying wreaths ,visiting children?s hospitals. Always the kindly despot. There was no opposition, Franco was his only ally and the Americans were keeping him in power because of his anti communism. The catholic church were very close to him and young students were viewed with suspicion. Little by little I came to see that all was not sweetness and light in this beautiful looking country.
Patricia , my English visitor ,still came to see me every night and one evening I made her aware of what I had seen and felt ,she warned me not to be so open with my comments, this was a proper dictatorship.
Portugal began to lose a little of its lustre.
The consul called to see me a little while after that, he had great news, the Palmelian , another Ellerman boat, would be calling into Lisbon in a couple of days time and I was going home on her as a DBS. I was thrilled to bits, next day I hurried down to the bar in the Praca to bid Elsa and my gigolo friends goodbye, Elsa cried a little and took me to her room to make love to her ; as love and not business . I was sorry to be saying goodbye to them all ,they had been so hospitable and I would miss them so much.
As I was walking back to the hospital,two grey uniformed policeman took hold of me and put me in a van. I was bewildered, had they mistaken me for someone else? We stopped at a large concrete building near Belem, it was the P.I.D.E .headquarters . I had?nt the foggiest who the P.I.D.E. were then, turns out that they were like a mixture of Special Branch and an Anti terrorist force.
I was led into an office that was very Spartan, steel desk , steel framed chairs and one desk lamp. Behind which sat a grey uniformed policeman wearing his cap and sunglasses. He had two pips on each shoulder and red tabs on the collar of his tunic. His face was like a steel trap, no emotion showed , he barked out something in Portugese and I stammered an answer in English . He called to someone behind me and said something to him ,and the new person asked what my relationship was with the people in the bar. ?Just friends? was all I could answer. He then said that I had been consorting with them for over a month,that was more than just friends. I told them who I was and asked for the British consul to be informed ,he replied that the consul knew where I was and had agreed for me to be questioned. My insides began to liquefy, these men were serious. I was subjected to an afternoon of tirades about stupid English people interfering in Portugese affairs , of helping terrorists etc.etc. etc. At length the consul arrived and gave me a severe dressing down in front of the policeman who then released into his custody .
I was taken by him to the hospital and he told me that he would collect me in the morning and take me aboard the Palmelian. That night I made my goodbyes to the lads on the ward, I would be off early and some of them would still be asleep.
Next morning saying goodbye to the nurses was moving , I had spent more time with them than any women other than my own family, they had been there at morning noon and night ,tendered to my every need when I was ill and stopped me from being homesick too. They were family!
The consul arrived just after nine and had a taxi waiting, Scarlett and the girls shook my hands and gave me little hugs as I moved toward the door, my eyes were filled with tears as I walked down the stairs. They had been a big part of my life and I would miss them so much.
There was a policeman in the car , he was to make sure I got aboard ,as if I would do otherwise, I was going home.!
Joining a ship with the consul and a police escort does not augur well for a new crew man. A big question mark hangs over you; what are you guilty of? Well the deckhands were well wary of me, I was given a cabin on the deck above theirs , it was a pilots cabin. Single berth and with a sink too, better than the ones they had. When we sat down to the midday meal, conversation was a bit subdued, was I a criminal ? I broke the ice by telling them of my trip out on the Catanian.
Gradually they opened up and I was taken into their company, it was a strange feeling ,like being a new boy all over again. I was?nt on any pay, and nor was I expected to work but I could?nt sit in my cabin and twiddle my thumbs, I was getting fed and carried home.
When they turned to to get ready for sailing I put my working gear on and joined in the work. It felt so good doing deckwork again.
Everyday I turned out with them and was soon one of the crowd, I forget all their names excepting for one, George Macklin, a huge ginger headed man, like the Honey monster, gruff but with a heart of gold. I enjoyed his deeply Scouse humour and we struck sparks off each other all the way home
We had one more port to call at before we set off for home , this was Oporto on the mouth of the Douro. This was an ancient port, the home of port wine and its winding streets and alleys contained many bars and bodegas ; most of the crew of the Palmelian had been on this run for years and they knew which were the best bars to drink in. There was a street across the river which they said had the finest bars on the Portugese coast , fortunately for me ,Patricia had warned me of this street when I was in hospital. The buildings almost touched each other across the street and they were three and four storeys high; when the residents spotted a ?stranger? about to enter , they would whistle warnings and the upper windows would open and people would enter the contents of their chamber pots upon their poor strangers heads. When I went ashore with some of the lads we met one poor such victim in the local bar. He was a railwayman from Stockport who was having a travelling holiday throughout Portugal and had come all the way from his home town via the various rail systems, including the then cross channel rail ferry. I envied him for he had seen places that a sailor would never get to ,but I did?nt envy the results of his trip down **** Street.
One thing that I was struck with in Oporto was the dire poverty in which some people lived, the tenements were the worst I had seen anywhere in Europe ,one little girl ,seeing my nice clothes, came begging ,not for money, but for aspirin . She spoke in halting English but she pointed to her Papa who looked racked with pain and asked if we could give him something to help him. We were outside the dock gates and I went aboard and asked the 2nd Steward if he had any painkillers, he knew the score and gave me a handful. Apparently painkillers were beyond the reach of poor people there. I?ll never forget that little girls smile when I dropped the tablets into her hand.
Very soon we were back at sea heading for the Bay of Biscay ,the weather was mild and we made good time heading north. I spent my days painting with the lads , getting the old girl freshened up for her return to the ?Pool. We arrived home safely in the first week of April ,I had only been away seven and a bit weeks but it seemed like a lifetime. As I packed up my gear ,the rest of the lads were up in the officers saloon paying off, getting their hard earned wages so that they could go home and have an enjoyable leave. Me? Well I was?nt entitled to a bean, I would get down to the Shipping Federation and get the first ship that was offered, no leave for me!
The lads were all in the messroom when I went to bid them goodbye, big George called me in ,and with a cough to clear his throat said ??Ere y?are lad,we?ve ?ad a tarpaulin muster so yer won?t go ?ome short like? he then handed me near twenty pounds, I was stupefied , mumbled thank you as I blushed to my roots. Such amazing kindness, as I write these words I can still feel the emotion that swept through me then. I could have some leave after all. Going home never felt so good.
The Summer of ?61
Life was never the same again after my Portugese sojourn, I was unsettled and spent more time drinking and womanising, it was a bit like getting out of jail I suppose. I saw my relatives and made the round of the pubs and dance halls and soon wanted to get back to sea again. Speaking for myself, I think keeping friends at home is very hard to do as a sailor; life moves on when you are away for months at a time, the guys you knocked about with when you were ashore were marrying and moving on . You could be ?Billy no mates? the one who wants to go dancing every night of the week while your old mates are working Monday to Saturday and have'nt got time to do the things you used to do. At sea you made friends for the voyage, deep friendships ,but they would end when your ship docked and you went to your different hometowns. If you were lucky ,you might sail with someone who you liked and they lived local to you. That happened very rarely, consequently you sought out feminine company more and more.
When I reported back into the Pool I took the first ship that Charlie Repp offered me ,it was a Shaw Savill liner called the Canopic .She needed a crew to take her round the coast to discharge the cargo she had brought back from Australia. She was?nt a bad looking ship, and she had an easy going crew, my cabin mate was a man who was returning to sea after 15 years ashore, he had a wife and three kids and had been working in a factory until a week before he signed on??????as a Junior Ordinary Seaman! He was a quiet man ,not given to much conversation and I was?nt about to ask why a married man leaves a wife and three kids to go and work for a boys wages. Amongst the crew was a guy I had been at the Vindicatrix with ,Brian Rutter, a very funny and cheerful person, there was also an EDH called Keith Emsall ,from the north end of Liverpool, quietly spoken and very amiable. These were my best mates for the next couple of weeks. The rest of the deck crowd were pretty good too, but there was one bad ?un ; he was of the ?stuff of nightmares?
He was about six foot tall, heavily built with close cropped blonde hair, the first UDH (Utility Deck hand) I had ever met. He had deep set grey eyes that looked like they had seen terrible things,with his mouthful of broken teeth, he was?nt the kind of man you would wish to meet in the dark. There was nothing sailorlike about him, he wore an old suit on deck, and he had the same suit for going ashore in.
We went to Newport first, dropped off some goods and picked up a load of steel; I met my first scrumpy drinkers there, hoarse voiced and addicted to the deadly cider,their voice boxes were ,apparently, ruined by the acids in the cider.
There was?nt much to do ashore and so we saved our money for our next port which was Cardiff..
I liked Cardiff , the people were friendly and the dockside was just how sailors like them ,full of pubs, cheap cafes and chip shops. The area had been known as Tiger Bay for over a century when the Bute dock was first opened. Then the dock was full of windjammers and men from every quarter of the globe would fill the bars that lined Bute Road and Loudon Square. Prostitutes of every colour would tout for trade along the pavements and drag jack ashore to their bag shanty for some jig a jig. But this was 1961 and the tarts had long disappeared ,along with the windjammers and bag shantys. There was still a good time to be had though, there were clubs and pubs to satisfy the needs of modern jack ashore..
Brian ,Keith and I went ashore for an after dinner drink ,or as we called it then ,a lunch time session. We hauled up at the Cardiff Castle ,it was quiet, just the odd pensioner having a go at the crossword or picking his horses for the afternoon racing ,we three got down to the serious art of liquid conversation. We found that Brian and I had the same birthday, so that called for a round of shorts ,and then we found that we were both born in 1942 so we had another round of shorts; and all the while the bitter was going down our necks .We did?nt drink lager then, not when we were in British waters anyway, there was still good British beer about then.
We were just getting into our stride when we noticed that we were late for the afternoon work aboard ship, the pubs used to close at half past two then and that was only an hour away; was it worth going back on board? No! So we ordered another round , I had run out of cigarettes, had hundreds of them in my cabin, but I did like a fag when I was drinking, and it was my turn to get the round in too ,thing was, my pockets were empty. I went to the counter and asked the landlord if he could let me have twenty Players and a round of drinks and I would pay him back that evening. ?Ow much d?you want bach?? he asked ,opening the till.?Three quid if you?ve got it please?
??Til tonight then boyo ? he said handing me three crisp oncers. He had?nt asked my name or what ship I was off, just gave me the money. We spent it all before closing time when we rolled back aboard and got a bit of shuteye before we went back ashore again .
I had a shower to freshen up and got dressed in my best ,I went and tapped the purser up for a sub and the three of us set off for the Cardiff Castle again.
The Landlord could?nt remember giving us any money and was quite bemused that we did?nt take advantage of him. We stayed their ?til closing time (10 p.m.) and then went outside, we were steaming along happily when we came upon a queue of people ,I forget whose idea it was ,but we got into the gutter and started busking, ?Carolina Moon? ,?Love Letters in the Sand? and a few more; I held out my hat and pretty soon we had enough to look for a club.
We must have sounded good, or were the audience drunk too? We soon found a taxi willing to take us to a club, he told us not to speak while he was getting us in, it was a good club , strictly members only but they would sometimes let foreign business men in, the trilby helped with the image there. We said we would be Norwegians who could?nt speak much English.
The manager waived the fee for us and took us personally to a table where he called three hostesses to join us . They were really nice , not dockside Sallies but chic young ladies , Brian and I hammed it up in Broken English while Keith sat enigmatically ,nodding ?Ja? and ?Iss Zo? when the girls were talking to us.
I went out to the toilet and noticed a one armed bandit by the cloakroom counter, there was a no limit jackpot on it . I dug a handful of change out of my pocket and was searching for a shilling when the hat check girl came to me and put a shilling in my hand ,she still thought I was Norwegian. I put the coin in the slot ,pulled the handle and stood watching the wheels go around ,click ,click ?.click .JACKPOT!! I stood in shocked disbelief as the machine vomited hundreds of shillings from its gorge. My language dispelled any impression that I was a foreigner; I tipped the young hat check girl and went back to our table and dropped all the cash on the table. It was a good job I won ,when we discovered the price of the drinks we realised why you did?nt get any sailors in there ,they could?nt have afforded it.
We strolled down to the waterfront after we had spent up and bought a bag of chips; as we were walking back to the docks ,three abreast on the pavement ,this huge guy walked toward us with a look of manic glee on his face. Without a word passing his lips ,he pulled my hat right down over my eyes, thumped the other two and ran off laughing his head off while I struggled to get my hat from over my eyes. Even then we thought it must have looked funny , ?Bleedin?Madman ? said Brian.
When we got back on board ,our bad ?un was in the messroom making his supper, he too had a look of manic glee on his face, ?What happened mate, you win the Pools?? someone asked .
?No? he laughed ? I rolled a bleedin? kraut din I? There was a silence after he said that and we shuffled away, this man was like something you would scrape off your shoe.
He got his just deserts though ,I think there is an order in the world that carries out these sentences. We were raising the derricks in Victoria dock ,on paying off day, he was holding the chain stopper on the derrick wire when a link snapped, he was wearing gloves and they must have caught on a snag in the wire ,up and up he went, the block on the mast ripped his glove off and he fell on to the rolled up tarpaulin off the hatch.. We stood amazed, he got up and walked away, his head was a bit battered and his hand looked swollen ,but nothing was broken. Could?nt have happened to a nicer feller tho?, we all agreed.
His last appearance was when we were queuing up to pay off , he ran amok ,screaming and shouting at the Master, I did?nt stick around to find out what happened, it was time to go home.
It was a blooming spring ,the weather I had left behind in Portugal was here in Liverpool, it was a good place to be for a young man. The family were either working or at school and I had the days pretty much to myself. I would get up when my kid sisters had left for school , Betty had the job of taking Chris to her school and then had to scoot to her own school . She had a busy morning schedule ,I would lay abed as they scurried to get ready, usually to the sounds of Helen Shapiro or Cliff Richard . When the coast was clear I would make my way down stairs for a hurried breakfast and then get ready for ?Town?.
I would go to Lewis?s ,Boots, and any of the other big stores ,ostensibly to look at what was good to buy ,but really to chat up all those beautiful sales assistants. Sometimes a lad could get lucky and make a date.
As lunchtime neared I would stroll down to Mann Island and look into Kingston House, might see one of the lads there and share a cuppa and a pie. Then it was across the road to see what was on offer from the Pool. Most days it was rubbish, old Bank liners or Baron Boats, would?nt touch them with a barge pole. I met Keith and Brian from the Canopic down there and arranged to meet Keith that night in the Yankee Bar. After a few swift ones in the Slaughter House it was home to Kirkby and get ready for the night out.
Looking sharp was essential then, suits were Italian Style ,collars were short and ties were narrow. The look was essentially New York.
There was a ritual to meeting in town, a couple of glasses in the Yankee Bar, then along to Yates?s for a couple of schooner of Australian white; then around to Ma Egertons for a couple of glasses of bitter. We never drank pints when we were on the move. Around about 9.00pm we would head up to the Locarno and see what was going on there. On Fridays there would be one or two Hen parties and we would never get involved in them ,we were always on the lookout for a couple of girls (who were looking out for a couple of boys),we had an agreement, if one of us fancied a girl and she had an ugly mate we would treat the mate nice so as not to spoil things for the other one. Trick was not to pick up a girl with a plain Jane mate ,but it happened a time or two and none was the worse for it. Having a good time was what it was all about.
We ran out of cash about the same time as each other and that meant shipping out again.
Six days after arriving home Keith and I signed on the Shell tanker, Acavus. I had never been on a tanker before and she looked the business. She was streamlined and handsomely appointed ,the sailors accommodation was fantastic ,like hotel rooms, the messroom large and bright and everything was so clean. The only fly in the ointment was that she was?nt going anywhere soon and Keith and I were flat broke.
The weather was glorious for Spring, we were in Eastham ,a bus ride from Liverpool and we never had the wherewithal to buy a bottle of lemonade, never mind go dancing.
We were sitting in the messroom having a smoke and a cuppa ,whinging about our bad luck when a five pound note came fluttering down between our heads .A FIVE POUND NOTE!!
We looked at it in disbelief and looked around to see where it had come from ; standing behind me was a very handsome young man ,too good looking to be straight. He smiled and said ?There?s no strings attached to that, I have just won The Shakespeare prize for poetry and I wanted to share my good luck with somebody?.you lads look like you need some, go and have a good time?
I can?t remember what we replied ,we were shell shocked. ?2 .10s. each, a lot of money then. We went over to Liverpool and went to the Futurist for the first house ,there was a movie on that I had wanted to see called Mien Kampf it was a documentary about the Holocaust. In 1961 we were still unaware of the full extent of what went on in Nazi Germany during the war. Keith and I left that cinema in a sombre mood ,the scenes we had seen were sickening ,now they are common place ,shown night after night on Discovery but then, it was an awakening and began to put into place some of the events I had met with in my life thus far.
We never bothered with the dance but caught the ferry back across the Mersey and went and had a few Jars in Ellsmere Port. We met our benefactor on the way back to the Acavus, his name was Roy, he was very witty ,his conversation filled with clever bon mots and he was interesting too. We asked him what he had been doing that night and he said he made some money playing in a piano bar in New Brighton. He must have seen the doubt on our faces and laughed. Just then we were passing a church hall ,the lights were on ,the doors we open and we could see a lady was moving some chairs. At the front of the hall stood an upright piano. Roy said ?C?mon on boys, I?ll show you some piano playing? We entered and Roy asked the lady if he could play us a tune he was working on, she smiled and nodded O.K.
Roy sat himself at the piano and commenced playing, I can still hear it to this day, the room filled with the sound of the Warsaw Concerto, the notes pealing around the walls, we sat rapt as the tune built up to its crescendo and ,looking round we saw that other people had entered the hall and were sitting spellbound too. This was a concert to equal any that was performed in the Philharmonic. Without pause ,he played himself into the aria ?Katarine? his voice a wonderful tenor ,eyes closed ,his fingers running across the keyboard. Some Italian sailors came in and when Roy had finished they cried encore , in all my days I had never been party to anything so spontaneously beautiful. He then sang a few pieces from Madam Butterfly and closed the lid. By this time there were quite a few people in the hall and they applauded with gusto when it was over. I can bet with certainty that that little hall in Ellsmere Port never had a night like that again.
On the way back to the ship we asked Roy what he was doing at sea when he had a talent in such abundance, his reply was quite the saddest tale I have heard.
Roy was from a wealthy middle class family, he had been a boarder at a very good school and had shown such promise that he won a partial scholarship at the Guildhall College of Music and Dramatic Art. He was doing exceptionally well there when he was caught up in a homosexual scandal. He was expelled and his family cut him off without a penny, he joined the M.N. and the world lost a great talent. It would?nt happen now.
We got back aboard and went to our respective bunks in a very reflective mood, it had been a very different night.
There was another Fiver the next night and Keith and I did the only thing possible ,we went and got drunk. Thank god we sailed the day after.
Once at sea we found out that those fivers were not totally altruistic, Roy?s boyfriend was one of the deck crowd and they had had a lovers tiff in Eastham,the attention paid to Keith and I was meant to make him jealous ,it did the trick.
The engine room crew shared the mess with us and they seemed a pretty boisterous mob , I had never seen so many broken noses or cauliflower ears in one place, there were a lot of Geordies and Glaswegians in their number, mealtimes were hectic ,conversations were often punctuated with the odd head butt or punch. Stayed well clear of that lot.
Our first port of call was Rotterdam ,well Vlaardingen to be exact. At Vlaardingen was the greatest duty free store in Europe, Sarneckis it was called and a sailor could get himself rigged out in the finest gear that money could buy. If you did?nt go to the store they would come aboard and sell you something, your money went a long there.
We went ashore for a lunchtime session ,there was a little place called the Oranjeboom Bar, sold good lager there and you could get a nice sandwich too. Roy was with us and when he saw the piano in there he played a medley of tunes that was good enough for the owner to give us our drinks for free ?Yoost Cum back tonite boys? was all he asked. We did just that ,not for the free beer ,the bar was good enough for us anyway.
When we got there that evening, an old man was sitting near the piano,he was smoking a large meerschaum pipe and looked very scholarly. Drinks were served and Roy took his place at the piano ,it was early so he trilled his way through a bit Tchaikovsky and Beethoven before the drinkers came in. The old man went over to Roy and introduced himself, he was a Professor at the Royal Dutch College of Music. The bar owner was a relative of his and had telephoned him to come and hear Roy. The old Professor was keen to know here Roy had learned such skills, and ,like us, wanted to know why he was not following his true vocation. We never heard what story Roy told the Professor, by this time the bar was filling with young ladies and our thoughts were elsewhere.
When we got back on board we went along to the mess and one of the big Glaswegian Greasers was gorging on an enormous meat sandwich ?Eh ,Scouse? he spluttered through his meat filled mouth ? Wese ?avin? a wee barney the noo ,are yer cumin fer a goo?
I ascertained that there was going to be a fight on the dock and ,I was invited to joined in if I so wished it. I thanked him for his kind invitation and told him I would take a rain check.
Keith and I retired gracefully and made ourselves scarce, with good reason ,one of the deck crowd was hospitalised and would need replacing ,we saved the company of having to replace three deckhands.
The replacement turned up next day ,he was a big Dutchman called Jim Rosengerg. He had the cabin next to mine and was a very pleasant man. On his first night aboard ,I saw him sitting at his desk speaking into the microphone of a tape recorder, I tapped his door frame and he looked up .?Are sending that tape to a girl in Singapore?? I asked. His eyes near popped out their sockets. ? Are you Brian?? he roared. I was nodding yes. What a small world. ?Jeezus ,she told me about you ,come in ,come in? I went in and he told me to say hello to that young lady I met on a rainy night in Singapore.
Jim took me up to Rotterdam next day ,it was time for the herring and he wanted me to enjoy some. I did like herring ,Mum always got me some pickled herrings ,soused she called them ,rollmops they call them now. The Dutch had them rather differently, raw.
We went to the main square in Rotterdam where there was a little caravan selling the new caught fish, I stood and watched as Jim swallowed a couple of fillets ,smacking his lips with pleasure, ?Cum, Cum , you now ? he motioned to the fishmonger to give me a fillet. Gingerly I picked it up and lowered into my mouth ,it was great. I would never have believed it ,the taste was so subtle, a slightly salty tang and then the rich fishy taste that followed after. I had four.
Jim gave me a brief tour of his town and then it was back to Vlaardingen for another night at the Oranjeboom. We were loading a gas oil for ?..Eastham..
When we got to Eastham it was just midnight before we had completed our berthing, we would be leaving in 12 hours time ,no chance of getting home then. There was some mail waiting for us in the messroom,plus a telegram for me. I had seen very few telegrams up until that time. They were always either very good news, new baby etc., or bad news, death in the family or ???.I was very nervous opening it , when I managed to focus I read that my Mum was in Walton Hospital, the telegram was sent in the day that had just closed.
All thought of sleep vanished, I had to get home and see Mum, so it was a quick shower and shave and then suit on and get ashore. There was no time to get money. Keith and Jim gave me some little cash that they had ,not enough for a taxi, so it was Shanks?s Pony . I got up to the Chester Road and started thumbing in the hopes of a lift. There was?nt a vehicle in sight.
As I was nearing Bromborough a big old Standard Vanguard came cruising by ,I had no sooner stuck my thumb out than it braked to a halt. I could hardly see the driver because he was in shadow. Pulling the passenger door open , I leaned in and asked if he was going to Birkenhead ,he nodded and said get in. I asked him if he was going to work or going home.
He looked sideways at me and said he was doing neither ,he was just out for a drive;it was half past one in the morning!
He asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was off a tanker in Eastham and was hoping to get home for a few hours.
?Erm, do you get many *****s aboard ships ?? he asked in a softly spoken voice.
The hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up. ?A few ? I replied.
?What do you think of them?? he asked.
? They live their lives and I live mine, it?s up to them what they do? I replied, what was going to happen now I thought, was he going to make a move or chuck me out?
?D?you live in Birkenhead?? he enquired.
?There?s no ferries at this hour y?know? he said.
? I?ll see if I can get a lift through the tunnel then?
? You?re not frightened of me are you??
?No? I lied.
?Why are you in such a hurry to get home ??
? I?ve just had a telegram to say my Mum?s in Hospital?
? Well then, let?s get you home shall we, and relax, I?ll find some one on the way home?
He took me to the top of our road in Kirkby and would?nt accept a penny for his trouble; I might sound odd ,but I believe that there a power for good in the world ,call it God or what you will, but he was there when I most needed help and he gave up all thoughts of carnality to do a good deed. I hope he had a happy life.
Dad was up when I got home and he told me Mum had had a lot of ?womans troubles?
How coy we were in those days, I?m still unsure what was wrong with her ,but it was a major operation that she had had the day before.
I got to Walton Hospital at 9.00a.m.and when I explained to the Matron that I had but 2 hours before I was due back aboard my ship she waived the rules and let me go to her bedside.
I was?nt prepared for the sight of Mum, she was always so careful with her appearnce, I did?nt realise that she dyed her hair or used much make up; she was just Mum, my beautiful Mum. Oh the sight of her in that bed, no make up and the greying hair , I was shocked rigid, the realisation that she was mortal hit with an enormous impact. I hugged her and she was so shy for me to see her without her ?slap?. We talked about everything and anything but not about what was wrong with her, but that was Mum, always thinking of everyone else but herself.
Pretty soon it was time for me to go and I went and asked the ward sister if Mum was really O.K. And she came back to the bed with me and told Mum was on the mend and would be going home soon. I kissed her goodbye and started the journey back to Eastham, I was shattered it was midday and I had been up since 4.00a.m the previous morning.
I got back just in time for letting go, it was 8.30 that night before I got to bed ,I was on the 4 to 8 watch.
I was back to Vlaardingen after Eastham, we never knew where we would go until the cargo was loaded ,some liked it like that ,I know I did, the sheer unpredictability of it lent a kind frisson. Like going on a mystery tour.
When we were alongside in Vlaardingen, the Mate thought it would be a good idea if we did a bit of painting ,starting at the bow.. We were going to be there for a little while so we were ordered to chip all the rust away ,apply lots of red lead and then restore her to he previous pristine state.
I was put in charge of the younger EDH?s and SOS?s and we got on our painting stages ,tightly bowsed in by the use of long hooks on lizards and we commenced clearing off the whitework and the name. We slapped a load of red lead on and then lowered ourselves to another fleet and did the same again. Lunch time beckoned and we went ashore for a liquid one
Suitably refreshed by some of Hollands finest ,we resumed our labours over the bow, back up on the first fleet where we applied the white undercoat. The weather was just right for drying paint. The undercoat was dry in no time and we were left with a big expanse of white and no name. .We moved along to the next section. Rolf Harris was very young in those days and he used to have a childrens T.V.show in which he would paint the most marvellous pictures with a six inch brush. So there we were, the six of us , sitting on our stages facing a huge expanse of white and armed with six inch brushes and pots of red lead, fuelled on by Amstel lager ,we started to do a ?Rolf? .I kicked it off. I painted the head of Mickey Mouse, soon we had Popeye, Donald Duck ,large breasted ladies and the occasional expletive. Pretty soon it would be time to get back up on deck ,we would be painting it all out tomorrow when we put the white back on.
The Irish Lampy, Larry stuck his head over the side and stuttered ?G,g,git ye,erselves uup, weeere le, leavin??
We hauled every thing aboard and stowed the gear away , within moments we were singling up and on our way. I was in the bow gang for mooring , and the Mate was a rancid little guy who hated Scousers ,he was always scathing in his addresses to me, never used my name ,just ?Oy? or ?You? Still, the feeling was mutual.
I was in my cabin as we headed down the Maas ,on our way to the North Sea, when the Mate burst in, his face puce with rage.
?We have just been signalled by the Dutch Navy that we have?nt got our name showing and have got a load of cartoons and obscenities instead!!? He was raving mad, he told me that I was on Captains report in the morning and that I would most probably be thrown out of the Merchant Navy.
I was due on the wheel for the last trick of the 4 to 8 so I went to the Captains cabin first. He was a rough and ready Geordie and I did?nt know what to expect, but I could?nt go to my bunk that night wondering what might happen in the morning.
I tapped his door and he called me in.
?Well, what was that lot about on the port bow?? He demanded.
?I started it Captain, I thought we would be covering it up tomorrow, it was just stupidity?
?Don?t you realise that it is a very serious offence in maritime law to sail without a name, never mind the obscenities!? He was angry, but not raving.
?Can I undo it sir?? I asked.
?With a long roller and a bucket of white sir ? I answered ? The undercoat should be dry enough to rough the name on?
?You do that Daley and you can forget about seeing me in the morning.?
I did my trick on the wheel and asked the man I relieved if he could get Larry to sort me out the necessary kit.
Larry came up and helped me to get the job done ,it was mid summer and the light held long enough to get it all done. The name was the roughest you ever saw ,but it was readable. As I leant over the bow ,Larry held on to my legs because it was a hell of a stretch. While we were at it ,Larry noticed that one of the bowsing hooks was still hanging from a lug about 20 feet below us.
He went down to the rope locker and got a gantline , made it fast and then swarmed down and swung himself so that he went into the rake and he let go one hand and grabbed the hook. There was a gentle swell running and we were running at full speed . He stuck the hook in his belt and swarmed back up . I don?t think I drew breath until he was back on deck.
Next morning as we were on our stations at the bow, heading up to dock in the Kiel Canal, the Mate, his face formed in gloat, smiled sneeringly at me ;walking the port side he ,he turned to look at me ?Wait ?til the dockmaster sees this ? he said peering over the side.
His head jerked in a double take, he turned and gave me a look of such venom. I kept my head down and said nothing, a warm feeling of satisfaction flowing through my entire being.
Soon we would be sailing through the canal and I would be entering the Baltic for the first time.
Last edited by brian daley; 02-22-2009 at 11:06 PM.
We sailed down the Elbe to Brunsbuttel and then turned north into the approaches to the Canal. Although I had made passage along the Elbe before on my way to Hamburg I had never been close to this shore and was quite pleased to see how orderly everything was in the Lande, the state of Schleswig Holstein. The bright white houses with their red tiled rooftops and the verdant pastures that surrounded them seemed so peaceful. It was hard to believe that the hands that built this Heimat were the same hands that held the weapons that near destroyed our homeland just 16 years before.
The war came back with a concrete reminder once we were through Brunsbuttel locks and into the Kanal proper, for there on the northern bank stood the massive U-boat pens. As a feat of engineering they were amazing, but when one remembered the lives of Allied seamen that had been lost to the craft that sailed from there it gave one pause for thought.
After we passed the industrial conurbation we gently cruised some of the prettiest countryside .It was like a rural idyll, the emerald green fields filled with cattle ,the neatly ploughed leas and meadows surrounded by hedge rows and here and there stood huge barns and farmhouses with tractors putt ,puttering through the lanes and fields. As we sailed past some fallow field ,where the grass was waist high,we beheld a young madchen standing proud ,with the gentle breeze pressing her dress against her Junoesque form.Every sailors eye drank in her beauteous body, and then a disembodied hand reached from out the grass and pulled her down out of sight. That vision of loveliness has remained with me for a lifetime, and the envy I felt of the hidden swain in the grass.
We left the Kanal at Holtenau and sailed up the Kattegat and across the Skaggerak passing through straits so narrow that you felt you could touch either side. We were heading for Halden ,south of Oslo in Norway. As we sailed between Sweden and Norway ,a whaleboat put out from the Swedish side and some fisher men boarded us. They wanted to buy beer ,spirits ,cigarettes, tobacco and ,most of all, cigarette papers. At that time Sweden was practically a ?dry? country. Their beer was ?near beer ? and the tax on the other items mentioned was so draconian that they were out of reach for ordinary working men and women. Hence their presence on the Acavus. Deals were struck double quick as the fishermen kept a weather eye out for the Swedish coastguard.. We amassed quite a few Ore from our exchange but we would not be in Halden long enough to spend them .
The port was very picturesque, and at the berth we were moored at, great granite cliffs towered above us and at the top we could see the walls of a fort. During our lunch hour Keith ,Jim and I scaled the rock face and found ourselves looking down into a military barracks ; our appearance caused not a little consternation among the troops in the barrack square and we descended double quick to the quay.
Leaving Halden we sailed out into the North Sea on course for Trondheim ,which was about half way up the Norwegian coast. It was near midsummer and was daylight for near twenty four hours .It became easy to lose all track of time. Night was just a very pale twilight which lasted about two hours ,as we ventured further north night would disappear altogether.. Sailing through the fjords was a magical experience, the banks of the shore on either side rose steeply away from the water to form mountains so high that at times it felt like we were sailing through canyons, only these canyons were ,for the most part ,green and pastured. The sounds of cow bells could be heard from miles away and you heard people who were at work talking as though they were near to you. The sounds resonated around the fjord lending an, almost musical tone to voices. Whereas the buildings in Germany had been neatly ordered in almost uniform red and whites, here the Norwegians painted their wooden houses in the most glorious colours, bright blues and canary yellows competed with blazing scarlets on the beautifully fretted houses that dotted the hillsides. Sometimes a flaxen haired child would holler ?hello? and the sound would echo and re echo down through the fjords.
Trondheim has faded from my memory but our next stop, Tromso, is still vivid in my minds eye.
This was where the Nazi batlleship Tirpitz met her end.. The fjord was so peaceful that it was hard to imagine that just over 17 years before it had been the scene of heavy warfare with British and Russian bombers raining down destruction on that mighty ship. Now it was a whaling port, and the water was red with blood of some freshly flensed behemoths that were being butchered on the shore. When we looked over the stern we could see that waters below were alive with fish of all kinds. The lads were dropping lines into the water and were getting bites with every drop. The cook was pleased as punch because they would augment his stores for many days to come.
As the next day brightened ,we cast off from Tromso and sailed North ,past the most northerly port in Europe, Hammerfjest ,and around the North Cape to Kirkenes.
I had volunteered to night watchman in Kirkenes, purely because there were no real bars in this neck of the woods so I was saving my coin for a real ?Sailortown?..
Kirkenes is quite close to Russia , Murmansk ,the port that the Allies sacrificed hundreds of lives to keep supplied during WW11 was just a short days journey from there and the Russian border lay at the end of Varanger fjord to the south of Kirkenes . It was the height of the ?Cold War? when we were there and I was on the helm ,following the Norwegian pilots commands taking the Acavus to her berth. As we got within sight of Kirkenes a huge monument began to take shape ,towering over the roof tops of the town ,it was similar to Nelsons column. As we got closer you could see that the statue atop this column was a Red Army soldier brandishing a Kalashnikov sub machine gun. Our Geordie captain exclaimed ?It?s a bloody commie, a bloody commie? He looked questioningly at the pilot as though seeking an answer. It was not long in coming. ? Dat bluddy commie captain, and touzands like him ,liberated Norway from Nazis. Dat iss vy he is statue! ? Our poor captain blushed crimson.. He still looked puzzled and the pilot said ?Dey cum ,beat Nazis and dey go home ,iss O.K. yes??
I was amazed to hear that tale ,so at odds with the stories that I had heard from the rest of Europe.
As the hours turned towards ?night time?( it was bright all the time), the shore goers put on their best duds and headed off for town. They need,nt have bothered ,the town came to us; there through the dock gates were dozens of beautiful girls, and by god they were beauties. Not the flaxen blondes of south Skandinavia , no these were Sami, descendants of that nomadic people ,likewise known as Lapps. Raven haired and almond shaped eyes gave them an almost oriental look and they wanted to meet some ?Western boys?. They were not dockside trollops, just lovely young girls after some fun. We had one night here and I had blown it grand style. Some of the lads had a girl on each arm. I tried selling the nigh****chmans job but there were no takers ,and who could blame them .Here we were, in the Land of the Midnight Sun and it was almost Paradise. My arse was red with the kicks I gave it!!
We left Kirkenes with the crowds of girls waving from the quayside ,those who had been lucky enough to spend some time with beautiful ladies were looking moonfaced at the thought of leaving them behind ; such is the life of a sailor.
Shown below is the Fjord we traversed to get back from the land of the midnight sun, the picture was taken from the port wing of the Acavus?s bridge at just about midnight.
We were heading back to Vlaardingen and would be sailing down the Norwegian Sea and then into the North Sea, the weather was idyllic, nary a breeze to stir a wave, the sky clear and bright , a very comfortable passage indeed. And a long passage too.
We had some interesting people among our crew, my watchmate was a man from the home counties, he was a bit of a boffin, he ,like Jim, carried a tape recorder as well as sundry items of radio equipment. He was a regular tanker man, hardly ever went ashore and spent his spare time putting ships in bottles or building radio sets. I had only brought books and writing paper away with me and so the Boffin( I have forgotten his real name) offered to build me a loud speaker that was linked to his radio/tape recorder so that I could hear whatever he was playing in my own cabin.
It was like something out of the kids programme Blue Peter, he took the ear piece from a radio set, put it in the bottom of a jam jar and stuck a cone of chart paper in the jar which acted as the loud speaker. It was?nt high fidelity but it worked.
One Sunday morning we did a spoof radio programme on his tape recorder, it was me do street interviews in Dublin ,mimicking Irish accented members of the public on O?Connell Street. I played every part, interviewer and public. It took a lot of cut and splicing on the Boffins part , but we had what seemed like a programme. I invited our resident Irish man ,Larry, to come to my cabin to listen to my new made Jam Jar radio. We soon had a cabinful when I made a show of switching on my radio. Old Boffin had done it proud , there was introductory music and the programme began. Larry was over the moon ,he believed it was the real thing and at one point he insisted he knew the person being interviewed. Only Boffin and I knew otherwise. We never disillusioned him, we just could?nt get that station again when he asked.
I must mention the Bosun of the Acavus, he was the most unlikely bosun I have ever sailed with. A slightly built man of about 5 foot 6 inches , delicate features topped by a shock of white hair ,much like Herges Tin Tin. His cabin shelves were filled with volumes of classic tales and he had an Akai hi fi system on which he played L.P.?s of classical music ,Chopin ,Liszt, Mendelssohn et al.
I had developed a taste for the classics after being taken to the Liverpool Philharmonic when I was a pupil at Tiber Street and I used to sit on the step of the accommodation door and listen to some of the bosuns music.
He had a cut glass accent and he was ,without doubt , the finest bosun it had been my privilege to sail with, he did?nt need to be rough and ready, his quiet demeanour and his air of command led us through our labours. He was in charge without him having to say so.
Pretty soon we were tied up in Vlaardingen, and across the dock from us was a Singhalese warship.( Sri Lanka was still Ceylon then) Roy went all girly at the sight of it , ?I love real Navy men ? he said. We later found out just how much he loved ?real Navy men?.
As soon as we were tied up and all labours ceased, Roy was ashore and soon returned with a load of little dark skinned sailors. There was a queue of them outside his cabin door and he took them in ,two at a time, and had his merry way with the lot of them . I could?nt conceive of a human being doing such a thing with so many , there would have been at twenty of them I felt sickened rather than outraged ; when Roy finally emerged he looked so weird, like some crazed person. Still, each to his own.
Our next destination was Fredericia in Denmark ,this meant another trip through the Kiel Canal.
Fredericia seemed a nice little port, very sailor friendly, the Danes were descendants of those great seaman ,the Vikings so we felt very much at home there. The bar we frequented was just a short walk from the quayside , and you can see the Acavus at that very quayside below. The place was full of girls when we got there and we soon paired off with them, we were made very welcome by all of the people there , they said how grateful they were for the way the British had liberated them from the Nazis. Some of the older men related tales of the occupation and Jim was especially interested;he was a Dutch Jew and had had the horrifying experience of having his mother machine gunned to death in front of him when he was eight years old. He hated the Nazis. One of the old Danes asked Jim what he was ,?Dutch? replied Jim and with that the bar erupted. The men went to attack Jim ,they mistook Dutch for Deutsch and were too drunk to hear the difference. The howling mob chased us all the way back to the ship, Jim was almost blinded by tears of rage at being mistook for that which he hated most.
We left Fredericia without going ashore again, the last part of our cargo was for England, Middlesborough to be exact,. We would pay off there and go home.
I never saw Jim again after I left that ship, but I have never forgotten him, he had told me of his mothers killing long before we got to Denmark. A group of SS men had come into their street and called out all the people from their houses, Jim was stood in front of his mother ,her hands were on his shoulders and he could feel her fingers digging into him. They knew of the brutality which had been meted out to people by these butchers and were afraid of what was going to happen to them. Trucks pulled in the street and the people were being beaten into to them. His mother yelled something at the soldiers and one of the turned his machine pistol on her and killed ,leaving Jim drenched with his mothers blood. How you can remain sane after something like that is hard for me to understand ; to be mistaken for those same butchers???..
The journey across the North Sea was calm ,almost as calm as those fjords and we arrived in Middlesborough on a bright and sunny June morning, the 16th day of that month.
It would have been before breakfast that we docked because we were packed and signed off well before 10.00a.m. We found out that there was a train from Middlesborough station to Leeds at 11.00a.m., we could easily make that ,but there was?nt a train from Leeds to Liverpool until 6.00p.m.. I did?nt fancy hanging about for 6 hours in Leeds.
There were three of us who wanted to get home to the ?Pool, we asked one of the taxi drivers on the quayside how much it would cost to drive home. He was amazed ,a taxi from Middles borough to Liverpool, he asked if he could see his boss, if it cost too much he?d just take us to Leeds, there was the chance of catching a train there,a milk train ,it stopped at every station. So we loaded our gear and went round to see his boss. He came out of the office grinning like a Cheshire cat, he was going to take his holidays right now, he was going to Wales, Liverpool was on the way , he would drop us off and only charge us three quid each ( that is about ?200 pound in todays money) . We then drove to his house were he packed his bag ,said good bye to his mum and we set off down over the Pennines for a fantastic trip to home. It was high summer and we had the windows open ,the boot was chock full and the lid was up and we had to make two cases fast between the boot lid and the rear window, ropes passed through the rear car door windows and were lashed down on the rear bumper. We must have looked like hillbilly?s. It was a great ride down though ,we stopped off at quite a few pubs ,little country ones and some large road houses too. Somehow we got to Manchester ,someone knew a great pub there, a policeman saw us tumbling from the cab and asked us where we were from , I told him we were off on leave and he shook his head and walked away muttering .
It would have been a lot quicker going by train, I literally fell out of the cab at the top of our road just after 9 in the evening, Mum ,who knew I was coming home, had saved me my favourite , hot stuffed lambs hearts. What a homecoming I had!!
There was?nt a lot going on in the world that seemed of great importance to a lad of nineteen, the Americans had sent a man up into space ,Castro turned Cuba socialist ,Jack Kennedy was President and he and his wife Jackie were captivating the worlds young. A little known country called Vietnam was seeking help from the U.S. and we had a Conservative government who were looking after things, and they were not doing too well. Kuwait became independent from Britain ,Cyprus was a dangerous place for an Englishman. Eoka were fighting against the British and the Turks and Africa was exploding on to the world scene with the horrors of the Congo, and the Union Jack was being lowered on the East and West coasts of that benighted continent. All of this did?nt amount to a hill of beans though. I was footloose and fancy free and most of my old friends from my pre sea days were either courting or getting married. I wanted a girl friend ,but I did?nt want a commitment, dancing and snogging was all that I wanted really ,could?nt see myself working in a factory and going home everynight to watch t.v. No, I had a wardrobe full of good suits ,some spending money and a whole world to see yet, besides ,this leave I was going off to see my cousin Willie get wed.
The nuptials were to take place in Wigan, his fiancee?s home town ,all of the Hengler relatives were invited , I travelled up with mum and dad and we got to the chapel at the stated time ,however, it was a fundamentalist chapel and Willie had to kneel at the altar for two hour ,supposedly praying to the Lord for guidance on future marriage. When we arrived at the chapel there just Willie and Gordon knelt before the altar ,heads down in prayer. At the sound of our footsteps, he craned his neck to see who had arrived and then told us about the two hour bit. The pubs had just opened for the dinner session and so dad and I slipped out to have a quick one, as we went down the steps we passed a photographer setting up his equipment prior to taking the ?Wedding? photos.
After quenching our thirst we strolled back to the chapel and saw my mum and her sister Dolly with her husband Robbie ,getting ready to have their picture taken and they called us to join them. Picture taken, I ascertained that there was still some time to go and returned to the pub for another quick half, glass emptied ,I crossed the road and there was another party having their picture taken so I stood with them??and then returned to the pub where I had another half ,and when I sank that one returned and had my picture taken with another set of arrivals. Altogether I was in 8 of the shots,looking merrier with each shot.
You would have thought it was a funeral rather than a wedding, the preacher was full on ,preaching about eternal ****ation and carnal sins ;his voice rolled around that little chapel, full of doom and disaster.
After the service was over we went to a little pub just out of the town and had some pie and black puddings and plenty of beer. One of our mates from Llandudno had joined the Army and he came in his best uniform, and very smart he looked , but there were some colliers in the bar (we were in the snug) and they did?nt like soldiers. We found this out when our friend came back from the bar looking very upset, Uncle Bill asked him what was up and when he learned what was going on Bill pointed to me and Hughie ( another mate from Llandudno) and told us to go with him and see what the score was..
We went into the bar and Bill put his hands on his hips and asked ?Whose got a problem about soldiers?? His voice was very calm but full of menace. Three Brylcreamed Teddy boys looked at us and were about to sneer when Bill pointed to the door and told them to ?Go?now, while I?m still in a good mood !!? His voice was icy and did?nt brook no argument. They supped up quick and left, quietly. Many is the time I have thought about that incident, what was it that those Teds saw in Bill ? Whatever it was it scared the hell out them. Shortly after Bill got me to help him to take some ale back to the Brides family house, he had an old Morris and we filled the boot and after dropping the booze off we returned to the pub to find the Teds had returned with some of their mates. I was afraid that we were in for a bit of a battle, not Bill though. He stood in the doorway and said ? I?m just about to lose my temper with you lot??..? and ,as he was saying it, they ran ,every which way. It was amazing .
But then Bill was a man who had spent 11 years in the army ,6 of them fighting his way across the desert ,up Italy and into Germany, he was a killer ,but he was also a fantastic father and my favourite uncle.
Months later, when I was back at sea, I had a letter from Willie , calling me a lot of choice words, I was in every picture excepting for the one of the groom kissing the bride, he thought it was funny ,thank god.
Back at home, it was time to get ready for sea again, I had lost track of Keith Emsall, he must have shipped out again before I got back from Wigan. I went down to the pool a couple of times but there was no one I knew each time I went so I would take pot luck and ship out on anything.
Anything turned out to be the Marchon Trader, a ship that traded out of Whitehaven in Cumberland. I had?nt been to that neck of the woods and so looked forward to seeing how things panned out.
Before I left, my aunt Dolly ,who worked with Mum at Vernons ,gave the address of a young lady who was on her ?line? at work. She wondered if I would write to her , I trusted Dolly?s judgement ,she must be nice .So I began a penpalship with the young lady from Aintree.
I was given my orders to join the ?Trader, I was to get the train from Exchange Station , there were some other seamen joining her and we were to meet under the clock on the concourse.
Next day I got there about 9.00 am and there were two lads my age ,,standing with their gear. I went over and asked if they were going to Whitehaven and we shook hands and I learned they were Scots,we stood and waited for the man from the pool. A tramp kept on shuffling around us , he looked like Coco the clown, his cap had a hole in it and there was a tuft of ginger hair sticking through it, his eyebrows looked like a big ginger caterpillar crawling across his forehead and his nose was scarlet and purple. He had on an old overcoat of such dreadful tattiness and his toes were visible through the tops of his shoes.
I kept expecting him to tap us up for a few shilling. Jackie and Pete said he had been there for ages and they were getting a bit bothered about him. When our man from the pool arrived he gave us all our travel warrants?. Including the ?tramp?
We were shocked rigid, he ,it ,was joining our ship!!!?
The journey to Whitehaven was on a stopping train, it took the best part of the day ,the heat was intense and this guy stunk higher than a pole cat. A mixture of ripe gorgonzola, mouldy spuds and rotten meat. We were practically gagging. His kit consisted of a shopping bag, and that looked half full . Conversation was very limited in that compartment , we did?nt want to open our mouths because you could taste him!! This was a singularly interesting situation, who was going to have him as a cabinmate?
The pics below show some of the 'Traders crew, I'm sitting with the cook "hamming it up for the cameras.
Last edited by brian daley; 03-07-2009 at 11:31 PM.
Re . Brians recolection.
Brian, If you find a publisher for you book, I would be very interested in you passing him on to me. You see , I too have so many memories of my childhood in Liverpool. Somehow though they tend to differ albeit we lived in the same era. Cheers Keith .
Although that train journey took place 48 years ago ,the ,memory of it lives with me still. There were six of us in that compartment, four for the ?Trader and two other innocents. It was a beautiful June day, the sky was eggshell blue and little white cotton wool like clouds served to heighten the blue of the heavens and the green and gold fields as we chugged our way north.
We were on a little steam train and we each took turns at the compartment window to breathe the clean fresh air. We had changed trains at Preston and were now on a milk train, which stopped at little halts and loaded milk churns for a dairy in Carlisle. This was in the days before the advent of industrial farming and the landscape we passed through was like a gigantic patchwork quilt. . The external beauty was marred by the malodorous stench that filled our compartment, it seemed to coat my teeth; being British, we pretended it was?nt there. We knew who the culprit was but were two polite to raise the issue.
After what seemed like an age, we drew into Whitehaven. It seemed a pretty little port , there was one fair sized harbour which had a breakwater upon which there were great mechanical extractors which were used for discharging the bulk phosphates. The Marchon Trader had been built for the phosphate trade and went out part loaded with odds and sods, then sailed to Heysham to pick up some more odds and sods; we sometimes took passengers on a barebones basis, they paid their insurance and meals, and came fully laden with her precious cargo. There were a few fishing boats that used Whitehaven ,but the main ?trade? was carried out by Fishers, another coasting company and the cargoes they carried were lethal. They carried atomic waste from the ,then newly opened, nuclear power station at Windscale. This waste was sealed in steel 40 gallon oil drums and dumped in the Irish Sea. Such was our innocence in those days that we actually envied the seamen on the Fisher line.
But, as standard went then, the ?Trader was a ?good? berth. The food was?nt too bad and it was two in cabin, not the Ritz but comfy. The Master was a man called Meekes ,he looked more like an office manager than a captain, but he did?nt like bull. The ship was sound , clean and well maintained, and ,best of all I did?nt have the hobo as a cabin mate!.
I was sharing with the bo?sun ,a guy called Georgie Branton, he had a weather beaten face(one of the lads said his mother used to chop wood on it when he was a kid) He was from Australia and was in his mid 40?s, he never said much excepting to tell us what to do, very slow to anger he would give everyone a fair go! Typical Aussie. Of a night time he would crack open a can or three and then wax eloquent. I can remember some fascinating conversations that took place in our cabin; well not quite conversations ,more like dissertations as old Gergie warmed to his subject.
?Y?know Scouse? he would open a subject ? I?ve read Einstein and pondered on his theory. He reckons that the atom; which all things in the universe is made of ?;here he would suck on his tinnie and give a small burp? An? these here atoms consist of neutrons and electrons and they do nuthin? but vibrate.
Everything is made up of atoms, even the bladdy atoms ?ave got atoms?
? An?everythin? is just vibratin?. If you take a look at an atom ,through an eletronic microscope ,yew kin see it looks like a universe, a bleedin? solar system. An? there?s millions of ?em.? He would look over the top of his can of Tennants and pronounce ?Oo?s to say we?re not part of some gigantic molecular structure?? We could be part of a feckin? tree, our whole milky way could be ? and here he took a match from his box of Swan Vestas and strike it, ?We could be a part of a matchstick , never mind about Commies droppin? the H bomb, we could all end up being burnt when some bastid lights a fag!!?
Conversations with George were never mundane, he saw the world as though he was wearing cracked glasses??.and I lapped it up ,made a change from football and sex.
The ?Trader was there(Whitehaven) for the weekend and that gave us a bit of time to get to know the town ; there was a hotel on the quayside and a main street that led out of the port and up into the hinterlands of the Lake District.
At the few bars we drank in that first weekend ,pub regulars would ask us ?Are ye off ower boat?? we quickly learned that they meant the ?Trader. A good many people worked for the phosphate company ,Marchon Products and were very proud of ?their boat? we three new crew found it hard to buy a round because the locals would insist on buying the lads off ?our boat? a drink. Most of the pubs we had visited were of the darts and dominoes type,no music and no girls. Still it was a nice little place and the beer was good
When we got back on board that first night ,we saw what looked like a thief going through one of the lads lockers. We grabbed him and were just about to give him a trimming when one of the engine room crew yelled at us to stop ?That?s ower Billy lads? he shouted ??E?s just carried that lad aboard? We released Billy and he shook our hands. He was a likeable rogue, he looked like a real gipsy ,with curly black hair, dark flashing eyes and hardly any teeth left in his mouth. ?Ah?ve bin in the Andrew lads? he said ? Ah can understand whut you must?ve thought ,but all you lads off ower boat won?t cum to no harm while Billys here. ? He was a registered docker and he did the rounds of the dock side pubs at closing time to make sure the lads off ?ower boot? came to no harm and got back safely on board. He sounded too good too be true ,but time showed us that he was the real thing. He dressed like a tramp, his garb consisted of a tattered old suit that had seen better days and a beret that was split at the back ,which covered his springy black curls. We never saw him clean shaven,his face always bore a five o?clock shadow. You would never dream that he had been in the Royal Navy but he had his medals to prove it.
Come Monday morning the ?Trader sailed out into the Irish Sea, which was dark blue and was full of white horses whilst the sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds. Good sailing weather. I took a spell at the wheel as we sped down toward Morecombe Bay, the sea was still filled with whitecapped waves and the wind was freshening as I relieved the helmsman . The wheel was huge, about four foot diameter and at least five foot high on its mounting. I was told what course we were steering and proceeded to work my shift. On every ship prior to this one I had either had chain and rod or hydraulic steering. The ?Trader had something I had never come across before???electronic steering. If you took two turns of the wheel to port, she would respond and head in the new direction , but she automatically centered the rudder herself. You did not take two turns to starboard to straighten up. I had a hell of a time getting to grips with that method but soon settled down to handling her correctly..
We had left Whitehaven with one man short and a new guy was waiting for us at Heysham. He was from Arklow in Ireland and was a nice quiet and unassuming guy..We still had Gerry and his terrible body odour and no amount of hints would get him to freshen up. Time , and a fireman would bring us some relief. But first we had to cross the Bay of Biscay and run down to Casablanca.
We had an uneventful run down to Casablanca,the Bay was as flat as a pancake and the weather was warm and sunny. We spent most of time chipping old paintwork off and putting new paint on, pretty much the same as most ships I sailed on . Gerrys? body odour got fouler and we all kept as far away from him as possible, not an easy to do on a small vessel. We always tried to keep him down wind , but that was not always possible. I felt sorry for his cabinmate,a quiet inoffensive bloke from Workington,it was another man from Workington who would bring ease to his suffering
Soon we reached the harbour of Casablanca; a lovely place to look at from the sea, the harbour was quite huge and there one or two ships at anchor awaiting a berth. When the ships agent came board he informed us that there was a dock strike and it could mean us being anchored for quite some time. When the mail was handed out to us we also received warning of how dangerous it was to go ashore alone, there had been eleven knife attacks on visiting crewmen in the past fortnight. That gave us all something to look forward to!
Casablanca, the white house, was well named, the waterfront and the hills behind it were crowded with white painted,red roofed houses of every size and description. The French had colonised the country for nearly fifty years and it showed. From a distance this could have been a city on the Riviera , so beautiful did it look,the harbour had a number of ocean going yachts at anchor and there were suntanned men and women sunbathing and swimming around their vessels. I had never been anywhere that so much beauty gathered in such close proximity. One yacht was crowded with young bikini clad ladies , blew kisses to us. You could feel the testosterone rising amongst our crew. Such a quantity of beauty ,so near and yet so far. A couple of launches towing young beauty queens came around our vessel, they waved to us as the wove their way among the anchored vessels. Gerry sat on the gunwhale ,just out of smelling distance when Big Alan, Alan McMullan, came out of the engine room,right into the smelling zone around Gerry. ?Ere yew ,why don?t yew ?ave a fecking shower?? He roared as he pushed Gerry overboard. A great cheer went up as old stinkpots carcass hit the water. We put the pilot ladder over for him and when he climbed back on board he went silently into the accommodation to have his first shower in god knows how many years..
Big Al turned his attention to fantastical display of beauty adjacent to us .?F**K me lads,are yiz blind ? they?re givin? us the cum on ? he shouted at us ?Get the bloody jolly boat in the water an? git over there an? git stuck in? Within minutes we had that little jolly boat unshipped and safely in the water. We had to limit how many could come because she was not very big. She was only used for harbour work ,painting the ships side
Etc. As a consequence she had a rather dishevelled appearance, her woodwork covered in several coats of multi coloured paints, there were no oars either;Big Al shouted for a shovel to be lowered to us whilst Jackie unshipped the rudder to use as a paddle. Thus that motley crew lust driven men headed toward that yachtful of nubile beauty. As we got closer to those little nymphets their smiles turned looks of concern and they started to shriek. A little fat man appeared from below, he sleekly fat and stunk of money. With just a few commands he had that anchor up and the yacht underway within minutes. We turned back to the ?Trader dispirited and full of dreams of what might have been. The strike was over within a week and we got alongside the phosphate berth without more ado. The dockers who handled us were regulars and greeted some of the lads who had been with the ship . One of them was a slippery character, he had an armful of watches and a sack of hashish ,both items which were for sale. Some of the lads said the watches were a bargain and that you would get a good price for them in Whitehaven .This proved to be the case ,as we later found out.
We learned that there was a U.S.O. near the docks and we were allowed to use it. This was like an American version of the NAAFI ;it was more like a good quality restaurant and everyone was in civvies. I had my first proper salad baguette there and it was excellent. I had always avoided ?rabbit? food and this showed me what I had been missing. One of the men ,who hailed from Peterhead and was fluent in French persuaded us to go and see the real Casablanca . He took us in to town and we were impressed by the wide boulevards and pavement cafes. .The place was vibrant with colour and the traffic flow was a procession of French and American cars interspersed with graceful horsedrawn carriages.. A group of us settled in one of the pavement cafes and had a round of beer. A post shower Gerry was seated among us . Pretty soon we had a shoeshine boy appear at our table , his price seemed so low that those of us wearing leather shoes let him get stuck in. Gerry was the last person he came too,the lad took one look at Gerrys? wrecks and gave Gerry some coins ?Get new shoes? he said as he left the caf?. The insult never threw Gerry. After that we went our separate ways, Jacky the man from Peterhead (I wish I could remember his name ) and I made our way to a bar that Peterhead knew about;it was Jackys?and my first visit to the place so we followed our leader.Le Diablet was a typical French bar ,all chrome and mahogany. There was a group of Frenchmen at the bar who nodded at us as we entered. They were quite voluble and seemed to be cracking jokes, Peterhead put a finger to his lips motioning us to be quiet. He then spoke to the group in French, what he said had a profound effect on the Frenchmen. With a flurry of hands they ?pardoned ? as though their lives depended on it and sent us down three steins of lager.
We asked Peterhead what that was all about and he said that he had told to stop insulting us or they would be sorry for doing so.. It?s amazing what a bit of lingo can do!
We drank up and bade them goodbye ?????and we ended up in bed with those lovelies we had seen water skiing. How Peterhead knew about these places was amazing, a proper sailor some would say.
There was a sad case we met with in Casablanca,it was an English man who some two or three years before we met him had embarked upon a journey that would take him around the world. His means of transport was an old British motorbike,a Royal Enfield I think. He had lost all his paperwork shortly after arriving in Morocco and could not leave the country because the authorities refused to acknowledge his existence. He was stuck within the port area and survived by begging off the ships. He used to give rides on his machine in exchange for cigarettes or money. He seemed a decent enough bloke and we made sure he ate whilst we were there; I often wondered if he ever got home. On our journey home that time we carried a peripatetic priest; he never wore the soutane ,just a pair of chinos and a tan shirt;around his neck he wore a huge rosary and he had an old BMW bike which still bore its desert warfare coat of paint. He did?nt have any English at all but seemed to cope in the same way we coped in France ,with large gestures and much pantomime. He had a gentle nature and spent the journey to Whitehaven quietly exploring the length and breadth of the ?Trader.
We never found out what he would do in England, bring Christianity to the natives? Someone had tried that before,and failed!
He was a constant source of gossip in the messroom and the night before we were due back at our home port some of the lads invited him to have a drink and a game of cards. I was on the 4 to 8 watch and he was sat down in the messroom with a couple of lads and some engine room crew. They had their bottles of duty free booze and were playing poker. When I went to get my head down for the morning watch they were hard at it, they were going to show this sky pilot how they could hold their booze. The priest seemed to be enjoying himself. When I got up for the morning watch the priest was still sat at the messroom table ,glass in hand and playing patience. On the deck and banquette lay the survivors of that nights debauch ,snoring and farting ,deep in whisky sodden sleep . The priest looked as fresh as a daisy.
We were soon tied up in Whitehaven and the sky pilot rode off to begin his missionary work in England.
The weather was beautiful that summer and that little port twinkled in the bright sunlight, some of the lads were signing off ,Peterhead had decided to look for another berth and a lad from Arklow took his place,two other deckhands left and two young guys from Poto Vogey joined in their stead. I never saw Poto Vogey on a map. Their accents were so strong that I could barely understand them. They spoke at high speed and they squeezed out their words as through a press., ?Ahm tallin yuhh, yeow gotto watch ovrythunk thase guyes dew? They were real farmers and would?nt have lasted five minutes on a Liverpool crewed boat. One was carrotty haired and always wore a trilby and the other had a thatch of fair hair and spoke very quietly. They were strict churchgoers and thought Jacky and I would burn in hell for our fornicating ways. Jacky and I drew close during our time on this ship,he was as fair as I was dark and we had no trouble in pulling the ladies.
Gerry was still with us, and he still stunk to high heaven but he had a secret that Jackie and I found out quite by accident . Gerry had no shipboard friends, he did?nt encourage camaraderie ,he was a loner. When we were in Whitehaven he would go his own way and that suited the rest of us. On the Saturday night ,Jacky and I sought to sample the delights of the bars further away from the docks, there was a singing house just on the edge of town and we thought to have a pint there. As we neared the pub we could hear a guy singing a gentle ballad in a chocolate smooth tenor, when we walked in the lounge we saw the singer was Gerry. We were banjaxed, he looked like Coco the clown and sounded like Nat King Cole. When he finished he came across to us and told us to keep what we had seen to ourselves ;he was doing it for money!!
Later that night Jackie and I clicked with a couple of girls and we spent the rest of our time in port with them, they were pretty and fairly easy going but my girl was looking for a relationship and I was?nt up for that, I was feckless and fancy free and any girl was fair game. Oh those empty headed days of vain youth. I had a pen pal, she worked with my aunt in Vernons Pools, I enjoyed her letters and she must have liked mine for she always wrote back to me. I trusted my aunts judgement and looked forward to dating this girl when I got home ; I did?nt want to complicate matters by getting entangled up there.
While we were in port Jackie decided to buy a new suit, we had them tailored in those days. I went along with him just to keep him company. The sales assistant was good, measured Jacky up and started the business on me. I told him I did?nt like British tailoring, the trousers were never right and the jackets never seemed to hang properly. He said he could make a suit to fit me and that I would be happy with it or there would be no charge. I said that I would bring a pair of American jeans in and he could make a template out them for the suit trousers. I chose black alpaca and had a shawl collar with a full draped back. That little tailor made me the best suit I ever owned. I had it for near ten years.
With our new crew members it was time to set off for Casablanca once more, this time there were no strikes and everything went off smoothly
Jacky and I saw the summer out on that boat and then he and I went our separate ways, he I never knew where and me , I began a trail of misadventure that led me into uncharted seas. .
Last edited by brian daley; 07-18-2009 at 10:47 AM.
Thats vey readable Brian, lucid and entertaining. I sometimes think that the English have a propensity to accepting that you can fall by the wayside, as in 'Poor chap lost eveything but a good sport really' on the road I have met so many people all with their own stories to tell. It makes one wonder about personal destiny or fate.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
The journey back home was uneventful,this time I was on my own and was anticipating my meeting with my pen friend from Vernons.
We had?nt exchanged photo?s so this made our meeting even more fraught than usual. Was she pretty? She was articulate, her letters had been descriptive and easy to read. She was my age and seemed to like the same things as I did??.but was she pretty?
I got home late Saturday night, too late to go out dancing or clubbing it ,
Instead I watched the last of T,V. (Eamonn Andrews chat showe) while broaching a bottle of duty free with my father..
I had arranged to meet my pen pal outside of Vernons on Monday evening, so on Sunday I went down to Walton with Dad to say hello to Nin and Granddad and have a drink with his brothers . This was a ritual that had endured all of Dads adult life; his brothers ,and brothers in law ,would gather at the family home in Tintern Street. Nin would sit at the table ,welcoming her grandchildren. She would say to the assembled visitors ?Is?nt like our Joe?? holding a battered photograph of her long dead brother dressed in his quarter masters uniform,the ribbon on the cap bearing the name ?SS Alcantara? Hanging from the ceiling was a bird cage which had an African Grey parrot,a present from her son ,also called Joe. Each grandchild was told how like someone else they were,her side board mirror bore photographs of her vast brood. After all the greetings and courtesy?s then men would look at the watches and say ? We?d better gerrup there for a swift one? And gradually Nins? dining room would empty of men,the children would find their own way back home.. We we would the begin our procession along Walton Rd. There would be no pints or shorts on this procession,just halves of mild or bitter. We would go to every pub along the road, at the Royal Oak at the bottom of Spellow Lane , I would have my last half with the ?Brothers? and go up to the Winslow on Goodison Road. I would join Granddad Hengler there and a couple of halves with him and ,at closing time we would go down to 69 Eton Street where Grandma would have a Sunday roast awaiting us. The world seemed so unchanging, there would always be a full table at Grandmas, her menu would be frowned upon by modern day chefs ,but to me it was ,and always will be the best !
Her style was unvarying, three veg , roast meat and Yorkshire pudding. A rich gravy would cover everything and there was the appropriate sauce for whatever meat was on the menu. Sweet would be rice, semolina or sago; if we were lucky she would put on spotted dick and custard. I would sit with the gathered family and watch a bit of T.V. and then start making tracks to Kirkby.
My Granddad Hengler ,and my Dad, always used to spend Sunday afternoon in their beds, they were sleeping off the ?Midday session? and gathering their strength for the Sunday night out. It was on that particular Sunday night out that my world turned upside down.
I had always spent my first full night at home by going out with Mum and Dad. This meant going to the KTA club at the bottom of our road.
Weekends would find it packed and you had to get there before 8.00 pm if you were to get a seat., We were a bit late that night and we got a seat
at a table where a family that my parents knew were sitting. They had their daughter with them and she was a very pretty young lady. We had a few dances and she seemed to be very nice Mum had worked with her at Vernons. Funny how life can deal you sucker punches, I was?nt prepared for the one life was going to deal me. That night happened 48 years ago , the consequences of it are with me still. I am loth to write about this period, decisions that I made were those of a young man very wet behind the ears. Love and Lust are two very different emotions and I was too stupid to know the difference.
Have you ever taken a wrong turning in life ,even though you were cautioned against taking that turning? The girl I met that night was a girl in distress; she had been spurned by her boyfriend when he learned she was pregnant. I felt sorry for her??????????????..
I met with the young lady who had been corresponding with me; sh was?nt pretty, she was beautiful. While we sat drinking and making conversation I thought of the other girl, pregnant and afraid to tell her parents. I found myself saying to my pen pal ? I?m sorry, but last night I met a girl who I must marry?
She looked stunned and a load of questions sprang to her lips ?How long had I known her?? ? Was I sure of what I was doing? Etc ,etc etc.
Looking back ,I did?nt know what I was doing, head was full of romantic dreams and reality was not allowed to enter it. On Tuesday night I met with M. and told her that I would marry her,I did?nt ask her ,I told her. She cried and then she went home and told her family and our lives took a quantum leap into madness. I will write no more of this matter, I am not an injured party, just a fool who could?nt take advise. When my leave was up I took a job on a banana boat, one of Elders and Fyffes. She was in Garston and was sailing empty .
They called the men on Fyffes ?Hollywood Sailors? it was an appropriate nickname. Apart from watchkeeping and tying up and letting go there was no sailor work on a Fyffes boat. Instead of a deck knife and a marlin spike you needed suntan oil ,shades and a comb.
My cabinmate on this banana boat was the ultimate poseur, he used skin creams and body lotion .the first AB I had ever known to do so. He could?nt pass a mirror without looking at himself and he spent every available minute ?bronzying? He had a permatan and he liked to be fancied ,man or woman, it did?nt matter, just as long as they thought he was good looking.
As soon as we left Garston docks and were sailing down the Mersey we were turned to for overtime ,we were going to be hatch cleaning. It was a warm October night so I wore a T shirt ,shorts and a pair of flip flops, when I got down the hatch I noticed most of the lads were wearing long sleeved shirts ,jeans and sea boots. I thought that was a bit odd ,but stood and listened to the bosun telling us our duties. The hatch deck was covered in duck boards, which we would lift to clean under. So far so good, my foot felt ticklish and I looked down and saw a big black spider
crawling across my instep . I dropped my broom and streaked up out of that hatch in record time. Off went the T shirt and shorts, as well as the flip flops. On went long sleeved shirt ,T shirt and seaboots; thus armed I returned to the hatch to commence cleaning. Being the last one down there I was given the job of sweeping out the space behind the insulation. I was given a handbrush and a torch; there was a space just wider than a man and it ran the length of the hatch. I opened the small door, switched on the torch and saw a million little eyes looking at me. SPIDERS, thousands of them. It was said that I immediately came out the other end
after closing the door I went in through. ?All done bos? ? I gasped. .I don?t believe that those insulation gaps were ever cleaned. The guy who had done the other side was quicker than me.! Spiders were to play a big part in our lives whilst on board that ship. They never seemed to invade the accommodation though, I recall just one of them ,it was crawling along the crew corridor when I trod on it, I was wearing seaboots. It struggled from under my foot and ran off. Idid?nt tell anyone in case I caused a general panic. That happened a short while after. We had set up a cinema screen on the after mast, the hatches were open so that they could air and we sat around the coaming watching Larry Parkes in the Jolson story. The cook had given us bowls of ice cream and we were tucking in to them when I noticed a spider coming up out of the hatch. It was huge but looked bigger being back lit by the screen. I was sitting amongst a load of engine room crew and I thought I would alert them to the presence of our visitor. Wrong move. As soon as the words left my mouth there was a general melee as the greasers tried to scramble away . Ice cream was everywhere as people tried to climb over each other in a bid to escape. The deck crowd, and the spider, never moved, it was a good movie!
The only other brush I had with our 8 legged companions was when I was sent to dip our house flag in salute to another banana boat the was passing us on her way home. I clipped the flag to the halyard and it was unfurling as I was pulling it up ; When it was completely unfurled a big wolf spider fell off it and landed by my bare foot. It ran toward me and I nearly had an out of body experience, but our cross eyed bosun threw his deck knife and pinioned old wolfie good an proper. In Tiko we would see some creatures that put our spiders in the shade.
We arrived in Tiko ,in the Cameroons,a little over 10 days after leaving Garston. Tiko is just a bit below the Equator in the Bight of Biafra. The weather was very humid and the shore were lush with vegetation .It was like living in a greenhouse, you hat to wear a sweatband on your forehead to stop the perspiration from getting in your eyes. We were in banana country, there were endless groves of banana bushes everywhere you looked. When we tied up it was at a quay that was devoted to one thing ,the exportation of the yellow fruit. A little electric railroad brought the banana stems to the quayside and elevators with canvas holders carried the bananas from the quay right into the hold. The dockers hefted them from the elevators and stowed them into the refrigerated holds., I never heard the Banana boat song when I was there. That little train was our sole means of transport into the ?town?, there were carriages that had back to back seating and they travelled non stop throughout the day. Tiko was British run in those days, the Cameroon had been a German colony until the end of the First World war when it was divided between Britain and France. It had a strange feel about it , the Brits were running the place but it did?nt seem like Ghana or Nigeria. The natives were friendly enough though, they all wanted to marry our sisters and come and live in England.
A few of us ventured into the ?town?, this was a collection of warehouses, a couple of bars and the shanties that the dockers and their families lived in. The bar we drank in was a straw hut but it had electricity and cold, cold beer. The train journey to the bar was quite scary for a first timer, as you traversed the plantation you could the hordes of giant land crabs that lived among the bananas. They were gruesome looking creatures, purple and red in colour, with enormous claws that they clattered ,they had no fear of us. I often wondered if they were carnivorous and capable of chewing chunks out of us. I never heard anything to that effect, but none of us ever walked through those groves.
After leaving Tiko we went to a Portugese island called Fernando Po, this looked so much more organised than Tiko, the buildings were smarter and there was a sense of order about the place. I learned that the Portugese were hard taskmasters and this sense of order was created at the end of a whip. Soon Portugal would be faced with open insurrection in her colonies.
After Fernando Po it was back to home, I was apprehensive of what awaited me on my return. I had made a promise and was bound to carry it out.. I wrestled with my conscience almost all the while. She was facing a terrible life ,a catholic girl ,pregnant: I felt responsible for her.
Homecoming seemed a joyful occasion, our families had become closer, there was to be a church wedding and all would be well.. But in one small corner of my mind there was a doubt, why was I doing this? I would quickly dismiss such thoughts and get on with the events that led to our marriage. It would be a white wedding in a catholic church, I would take instruction in the catholic faith and we would tie the knot at the first possible date. I spent every night of my leave at her house, her brothers seemed to like me and I was introduced to her relatives . Her brothers knew the expected child was?nt mine as did her parents, according to them I was a?hell of a guy?. My own parents tried to make me see sense, but I was 19 ,a man and I was not capable of seeing what they saw.
I did?nt have much leave, our wedding was set for December and I tried to get a ship which would get me back in time for that date.
Charley Repp got me a banana boat ,same class as the Chuscal and on the same run. Be home in plenty of time he said.. I joined her in Garston and was immediately put to work loading paint for the coming voyage. After carrying my 40th barrel of white paint aboard I asked myself the question, why would a journey of less than a month require so much paint. The shore captain answered that question quite easily,? She?ll be away for a year or more? I told him that I took the ship on the understanding that I would be home in time for my wedding. He then paid me off with all due courtesy and a discharge in my book which I believe is unique, it says ?Engagment Cancelled? this became a source of grief thereafter with a lot of company?s refusing me work because they thought I was a troublemaker. Looking back with hindsight ,it might have been best for all concerned that I stayed on the Chicanoa, but that would have changed the course of the rest of my life and I?m happy with the way things are now.
But I digress, I was accepted by Cunard for a job on the Carinthia. She was on the Montreal run and it was my introduction to a whole new experience.
I had to wear a fore and aft rig, just like a navy man, the day before we sailed we had a muster of the entire crew on the prom deck. We were sorted into ranks, Quartermasters, Watchmen, Daymen, Cooks, Stewards, Firemen and Greasers. We were told to stand to attention while we were addressed by the staff captain. He told us all the ?do?s and don?t?s? and ,when he had finished, told us to turn to the right and march past the ships? master and salute him in passing. I felt everyone of my Bolshevik genes rise in my gorge, this was bullcrap of the first order and it was part of the job!
There were some characters in that crowd but the one who stands out most was an AB called Charley Chin. He was a Liverpool Chinese and as Scouse as they come. He?d been on the ship for years and liked his ale ,he was also a movie buff and would regale the mess with stories of some of the stars he had sailed with. He was hot stuff when it came to cinematic knowledge and would throw out little gems about some of the great movies ?Not many people know this? he would begin, or ? Oo knows the name of Charlie Chaplins first wife? He would usually be greeted with ? I don?t know Charlie,what?s the answer? and then he would lurch into Charley Chins history of Hollywood?
One day he asked ?What was the name of the first talking picture? C?mon, oo can answer that? There was the usual silence and then I said ? The City Lights of Old New York? ? Yer wot ?? he said, ? the City wot?? The mess went quiet. ?The City Lights of Old New York ? I repeated. ? Look sunshine, y?know eff all !.It was the Jazz Singer with Al Jolson ,everyone knows that!? ?Then everyone is wrong I replied, it was The City??.?
?I?ll bet you 10 bucks it was the Jazz Singer, put yer money where yer mouth is?
I told him I would pass on that because there was no way I could prove otherwise. Charley looked around ? It would?ve been easy money on that one lads?
I kept my head down after that, Charley was a popular guy and I did?nt want to upset him. He used to get very Bolshie when he had a few Wrexham lagers in him. ? When the revolution comes ,we?ll ?ave them sods with the gold braid pullin? rickshaws,give ?em all the ****ty jobs.!!? Sentiments which rested easy upon our ears. As a watchkeeper I did mainly lookout or standby, Quartermasters took the helm on her.
During daylight hours we would be washing down ,soogying or painting.
It was a big ship and there was plenty to do on it, but it was mainly ?charring?
There was one incident that occurred which I found disturbing ; it happened when we were leaving Liverpool. I was in a party working under one of the bosuns? mates, there were a half dozen of us and we were squaring away. It was dark and there was one little guy who seemed to be a bit of an outsider. He was Scots but lived with his wife and kids in Liverpool. He seemed a pleasant enough guy, small and quiet, kept himself to himself. Some of the lads had had a skinful in the pub before sailing ,there was a bit of banter and some remarks about scabs ,it was all over my head being new. As we started down the river and we were sweeping the after end of the boat deck I heard piercing shriek come from beneath one of the lifeboats. I ran toward the sound and found two of the lads beating the Scotsman ,He was on the deck and they were kicking and punching him. I?m one of the great cowards of this century but I could?nt let the poor little guy get battered. I swung my broom at them ,yelling for them to stop.
Lucky for me ,they did; standing up , shamefaced ,they muttered he was a scab and had sailed during the strike. I walked away and never heard any more of it.
Nightlife on the Carinthia was different, there were proper bars ,Pig and Whistles, they could seat about 50 or 60 and there was a piano there too; if memory serves me right there were two bars,one for the deck crowd and one for the catering.. The stewards and cooks seemed to have a lot of talented lads among their number, there were drag artists and musicians. The entertainment was excellent, there were a couple of great piano players who could play anything from Bach to Basie.
When we were in Montreal I met up with the catering lads ashore and they had a combo which was second to none. They would ?raid? a bar and would regale the drinkers with a medley of blues and rock and roll. They were thrown out after a couple of numbers and then ?raided? another bar. It was?nt easy, they had a tea chest bass, and a couple of guitars and a washboard, a cook called Terry played the piano, and there was always a piano, the men knew which bars to ?raid?. It was all done in good fun and ,being regulars on the run, they were known by the barkeepers.
I came to understand why some men never sailed on ordinary cargo boats, apart from the ?bull?, you could have a good time .
When we were in Montreal and were sitting in the messroom having a nightcap when one of the deck crowd came in; old Charley was in his corner cracking a few jokes . ?Hey Charlie , I?ve just been the pictures to see that new Charlton Heston film and guess what? ? Charley blinked ,inscrutably ? Wot?? He asked. ?Well? the late arrival said? there was a short about the golden days of Hollywood and they showed a clip from the very first real talkie?..?The City Lights of Old New York? Charley winked at me,?Yer could?ve made a few bob if ye?d stuck to yer guns kid?
Soon we were on our way home again and somehow or other the ?queens? learned that I was getting married when we got back. They decided to have a stag night for me; I was on the 12 to 4 watch so I had to keep a little sober ???.I had no chance. The lads were pouring it down my neck, this was a stag night and they really went to town. The ?queens ? were dressed in evening gowns that were right out of Hollywood, I had them sitting on my knee singing love songs . I was well away, all thought of propriety had dissipated with every pint of lager. Some of them wanted to be bridesmaids and the thought of the priests? face made me laugh. Midnight came a lot sooner than I had expected, I was in lagerland an had lost all sense of time and space. Soon it was my turn to climb up to the crows nest and do my bit. Sitting up there , with the seas rising and the ship moving three ways at once, my stomach started to rebel. I could feel the acids coming up my throat and I could?nt keep them down. I wound the window of the crows nest down and stuck my head out into the gale. Uuupp she came .and Uuup it came, I felt as though I was having an out of body experience. I watch ,fascinated as the contents of my stomach started to turn and the spin, spreading out like a carpet and it spiralled down on to the port wing of the bridge. I closed the window and fell asleep . I was awakened by my relief and staggered down to the messroom. Next morning I was on the wash down party and we were scrubbing the port side of the bridge. The officer on watch said that the captain had said if found out which so and so had carpeted the bridge he would make sure he?d never sail again. Lucky for me nobody ?grassed?
We spent a freezing cold morning painting the forepart of the whitework on the prom deck . We felt so envious of the passengers sitting in the main bar ,a big open fireplace with a burning log fire and there we were, paint brushes near frozen , icicles hanging off the ends of our noses trying to smarten up the whitework. It was idiotic. As we sailed down the Mersey next day the paint started to peel off the fore part, like sheets of wallpaper.it slid to the deck.
Thank god I was leaving her. Next time I went to sea I would be a married man.
Last edited by brian daley; 07-25-2009 at 07:29 PM.
I read the piece with interest one thing that struck me Brian was the bit about going in the crows nest I thought that only happend on sailing ships as look outs.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Paddy, the crows nest was a little different from those ones you saw on sailing ships or the Titanic: the modern crows nest, whioch was equipped with a heater,telephone and electric clear screen, was up a mast which rose up from the deck behind the bridge. You were about 40 feet above the bridge deck ,and the bridge was about forty feet above water level, then you were forty foot taller than that. You had a terrific view of the horizon but the down side was if the ship had a slight roll ,then you moved in a wider arc being so high. You needed good sea legs in rough weather because you were swung all over the place.
And what would you be looking for icebergs other ships or land ?
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Great stories Brian,,
Great to hear about tintern street,,,
We left Preston and sailed up to Glasgow, the sea was moderate and we stayed inshore for a good way. I had never been on anything as archaic as this ship,she had chain and rod steering .A series of rods went from the wheelhouse down to the engine room where there was a little donkey engine(motor, not steam). This engine drove the chains ,which ran along the deck in steel channels, and the chains were connected to a quadrant on the poop. It turned out to be very reliable, Victorian technology at its best. As the quadrant was above our quarters it created a hell of a racket in the cabin, but I ,like the rest of the crew ,got used to it.
We arrived in the Plantation Dock and all the deck and catering crowd paid off ; there were just the Arab engine room crew and myself left aboard. The generators were switched off and a power line was brought on board from a plant room on the quay. The ship was totally silent. The Arabs were away ashore leaving me all on my lonesome. You could hear every little wavelet slapping the ships side, sometimes a bit of flotsam would clang alongside the hull. It was like living inside a drum. I made myself a cup of cocoa and turned into my sack. It was going to be a lonely weekend.
I fell into a deep sleep when I was awakened by a racket overhead, chairs were being scraped across the deck above me. Was it the Arabs? I hoped so but it did?nt sound like them . I put on some dungarees and crept up stairs to have a look, they were Glaswegian voices I could hear ,drunken Glaswegian voices. I got to the top of the companionway and could see in to the messroom; there about 10 very drunk red biddy merchants ,they were pushing and shoving at each and it sounded very much like trouble. I could?nt get past the messroom without being seen so I made my way back to the cabin and locked myself in. A few minutes later there was a tapping on my door, I froze. I said nothing and the door was tapped again ? Ah Ken yer there Jimmy , open the door? I stayed silent. ? Ah?ll nae harm ye, jist open the door? My throat was almost choked with fear. ?What d?you want>? I croaked. ?To do ye a deal? he replied . ?Open the door an ah?lI telt ye? I cracked open the door and was faced with a thuggish looking ruffian,his face almost covered with a matted beard and the bit of skin that was visible was red and lined with broken veins. He had eyes that danced from side to side, sharp and ratlike. ?Y?see me ,ah?ll get rid o? they guys an? keep ?em aff yer boat if ye let me stay. Ah?ll be away when the crew gets back on board? he let the words drop before me, awaiting an answer. Up above the noise got louder and there was the sound of something smashing.
I nodded, ?Okay, until Monday? I said. His eyes flashed a look of triumph and he ascended the stairs to the mess. It sounded like carnage was happening, there was a roaring and a yelling and full throated screams. And then came the sound of feet scuffling away from over my head until all was silent. One pair of foot steps broke the silence, scampering along the deck and then down the companionway to my door. ?They?re awa Jimmy? said my ruffian ,? Ah?ll get my heid doon in the messroom?.. g?nicht.? I got back into my bunk and fell into a deep sleep.
The smell of fried bacon brought me to consciousness, it smelled delicious. I went up to the mess room and found the ruffian working his way through a huge bacon sandwich. He smiled ? I hope ye dinna mind ,I was awfy hungry? Well it was morning, Sunday morning, and he had kept the mob away from me. ?Help yourelf? I told him .
I then went down to the galley to see if I rustle up some breakfast for myself..
There was a little electric cooking ring in the crews kitchen so I got some eggs and bacon and took myself down aft to our messroom.. I was cooking a couple of rashers when this young Arab greaser appeared in the kitchen doorway ?Pliss,you mek me bacon sandwich?? He begged.?You guys don?t eat bacon? I said . He nodded and put his fingers too his lips. ?Issa secret,I love bacon sandwich? I did him his butty and he slipped away happy. As I was doing my second lot of a bacon another Arab appeared. Pointing to the bacon rashers he said ?Pliss ,you do for me?? Good job there was?nt an Imam aboard that boat.
Sunday passed uneventfully, the ruffian kept out of sight of a daytime and came back aboard at nightfall. Come Monday morning he was gone and everything was shipshape. He must have been an old hand at that sort of thing. The Captain and Mste were aboard early and the rest of the catering staff and engine room crew were all aboard just after breakfast. All we needed was a deck crowd. Shortly after midday they made an appearance, there was a Highland man , Jim McInnes softly spoken with a lilt to his speech. There were four guys from Glasgow itself ,one was of Italian extraction, small set ,D.A. haircut and what passed for cool. A big blond guy whose dad was Norwegian ,he could have passed for a Norseman both in looks and dress. And there was Eck , he had a head on him like an angry cat ,his hair stood up in spikes and he had a mouthful of broken teeth. Then there was Tam from Stranraer, he was one who seemed people friendly, a ready smile and an apt quip came readily to his lips. Our deck boy was a first tripper, a big blonde kid from Paisley, he reminded me of a big shire horse ,he was about 6 foot 2 inches tall ,had a shock of blonde hair and an open, trusting face. As soon as the crew had signed articles we made the ship ready for leaving, we were off to Gothenburg .
Excepting for the four Glaswegians ,who were friends, we were strangers to each other and treated each with that wariness you have when joining a new crew. They were surprised to find a Scouser in their midst .When we had let go and were making passage down the Clyde the Glaswegians gave me the third degree in the mess. No niceties were observed, they would ask me a question and when I answered it the Italian guy would say ? E?s a feckin? liar ? At first I was quite bemused, was he for real? When I told them I was a newly wed the Italian said ? That?s anither feckin? lie!? He was sitting right opposite me and I got hold of him by the throat and was just delivering a blow to his face when someone grabbed my arm and the Norwegian laughed and said ? It?s O.K. , we wuz just sussin?ye?
I never had any bother from anyone of them after that.
Soon we were passing out of the Clyde and into the Irish Sea where a storm of nightmare proportions awaited us.
Winter, North Sea
After passing Paddys? Milestone ,or ,to give it its proper name, Ailsa Craig, we ran straight into a force ten gale. We were head on into it and were making no headway. The old steam engine rattled and strained but it was no match for the fury of this Northern tempest. We were actually being forced backwards, massive wave after wave crunched into her bows and shook us like a terrier shakes a rat. The steel plates groaned and shrieked as she was twisted by the mighty seas. The skies were coal black for days and soon we saw the lights of Dublin Bay. This was madness, engines going flat out to go north and we were being pushed south like a toy boat in the hands of the sea gods. Three days we spent battling against that baleful storm before the winds began to abate and then we gained headway and began our journey north. Considering what we had been through the lads were in fine spirit, Jum,the deck boy was enjoying it ,he felt it was like the storms he had seen in some movies ?excitin? he said. The Glaswegian deckhands had been giving Jum a hard time; instead of teaching him the ropes, they continuously misled him ,or played pranks on him. Sending him for a bucket of steam or for a long weight/wait, were tame with what they were doing. They would show him a wrong way of doing thing and then laugh at him when he made a hash of it. It pained Jum, you could see he was upset at having the Mickey taken out of him when all he wanted to do was to learn how to splice and do his bends and hitches.. I tried to undo some of the harm they were doing to him without setting myself against those dock rats.
We sailed up through the Minches and the sea was calm and though the skies were slate grey the land on either side of us looked very nice. I was on the helm on the evening four to eight watch and I had told Jum to come up and I would give him a spell at the wheel. He was excited as he entered the wheel house, the old Scots mate pointed out the wheelhouse windows and said to Jum ?Ye?re lookin? at the hills of Gods ain country McGregor?
? Och ,no sir, Palestine is where God lives ? said Jum ,making the Mate and I smile. He was such an innocent!
He picked up things very quickly ,but would?nt volunteer to take the helm when the dock rats wanted him to give them a break.
Apart from that little group of malcontents, I was beginning to like most of the crew. We used to spend our spare time in the mess room talking about the world we knew and any other old rubbish that finds its way into a sailors mind. The Highland Man Jim , usually had a tale to tell, and he told them in a way that you had to strain to listen to them. One night he told us of the time he took his wife to a Chinese restaurant in his home town. He said it was a splendid meal that they had there but half way through it his wife began to choke and pulled his handkerchief out of his top pocket and coughed something into it. She then pushed the handkerchief back into his top pocket.. Whenever he joined a ship ,Jims wife would put his suit into the cleaners so that it would be nice and fresh when they got home.
When he got back from his voyage she told him that she had put his suit into the cleaners ,as usual, but had forgotten about the handkerchief. Two days later, the police came knocking at his door and informed his wife the half a finger had been found .wrapped .in a handkerchief that was in the top pocket of the jacket. She was sick for a couple of days afterwards. Turned out that one of the cooks had sliced the offending digit off his hand and could?nt find it. He told a good tale did Jim,wether they true ,who knows..
We Passed Cape Wrath and one could see why the headland had earned its name, the seas were up again and the skies were full of ragged storm clouds. It was so bad that the captain decided to run into Scapa Flow to escape the worst of the storm. I had never been to Scapa before, it was a huge anchorage and the captain told me the German Grand Fleet came there after Armistice in 1918 and promptly scuttled itself rather than let the British have them. It seemed eerie knowing that. We did?nt get ashore ,we sat waiting for a respite in the storm and then started on our way again.
We cleared the Pentland Firth and sailed straight into the worst storm it has ever been my luck to be in. If the Irish Sea had been bad this was far worse, the sea seemed determined to have us. Daylight seemed to have gone forever , the sea was only distinguishable from the sky by the white topped waves. There was a Swedish ship ahead of us and a German abaft our beam. We could sea the waves crashing against the Germans forepart, reaching almost up to her bridge, the Swede soon became lost to our sight as the seas grew higher. This was really serious stuff and there was no rest to be had because of the shaking and banging that occurred with every rise and fall. The mate called all hands to the boatdeck, we had to turn out the life boats as our situation seemed perilous. I don?t when they were last inspected, but those boats seemed set fast; we had to work for hours to get them up and the davits swung out. Looking at those seas ,our boats would have no chance against them. But she was a solid old ship. We received news that both the Swede and the German had been sunk with the loss of all hands. A gloom hung over the crew after we heard that. In our bunks that night , storm tossed and shaken ,I could hear some of the men praying and saying hail Mary?s. It was a bad night.
Next morning we were hit with the news that we were running out of food and would be rationed with what was available. The cook took a hell of a shellacking off the dock rats, most of us were just resigned to the fact that we were still alive when a lot of good men were now lying at the bottom of the North Sea.
Later, that same day , the Royal Navy came to our rescue with some stores. I had never seen the operation that the Navy undertook ; they fired a rocket line and we then had food pulleyed over to us . It did?nt take long ,and there was?nt a great deal, just enough to get us to our next port. If we ever arrived there. This was the winter when Germany and Holland suffered great flood and there we were ,in the heart of it.
Last edited by brian daley; 08-06-2009 at 08:51 AM.
Nice one Brian, enjoyed that.
We were now in our eleventh day since leaving Glasgow,the skies were still leaden and storm rent and the seas were still boiling with fury. There was now an added peril , ice !
The fore well deck was sheathed in ice and the foc?sle head was becoming solidly encased As the spray came over the bows it was immediately frozen into spears of ice. The foremast stays were hung with icicles and she was definitely getting lower in the water. The captain ordered steam on deck in the hope that the steam pipes would start to melt the ,now,solid ice. As dawn broke it became clear that we would have to take drastic action if we were not to be overcome by the mass of ice. We were ordered out on deck for ?safety of the ship? We were given pawls and sledgehammers to break the ice up,one man stuck the pawl into the ice and another hammered it into the ice. It was back breaking worth and all the time the spears of ice came crashing around us as the ship ploughed on through the stormy sea. It took us a day and a half before we got the ship out of danger; we were still clearing the foc?sle head as we sailed into Gothenburg. It had taken us 13 days to make the crossing, 13 days of hard toil, of man against the elements. The lights of a town had never been more welcoming, here was peace .
Our Captain had aged visibly , the toll taken by the storms was awesome. This man had had a shock of thick black hair ,when I was on the helm going into Gothenburg ,I could see that his was now white and his face was drawn and lined. He had been responsible for all our lives and the worry had put years on him. I volunteered to do the night watch in Gothenburg. Sweden was an almost dry country then, the beer was weak and insipid and spirits cost a fortune, besides I was a newly married man and my wenching days were over. I did pop ashore for a quick gander round the town before it was time to go on duty. It was covered in snow and there was very little traffic about, we saw cars towing people on skis and the windows of the bars and cafes were covered in condensation giving the appearnce of frosted glass. I was brought up sharp by the magazines that were on display at the newsstands. I had never seen such a mass of pornographic images so openly displayed , they were not hidden on the top shelf, but on the counter alongside the newspapers. Mrs Whitehouse and Lord Longford would have had fits. Although I was a seaman , the openness of it shocked me.
I got back aboard for my night watch and found the foc?sle empty, they had all gone off to get a few pints in ,there was little else to do in wintertime Gothenburg..
I was standing at the head of the gangway when the first of the deck crowd came stumbling back aboard ; it was the Italian and his face and nose were bloody. I asked what had happened and he hurried off muttering so that I never understood. A while later Eck came aboard , face on him like a raw steak, I got nothing out of him either. Gothenburg had?nt seemed a rowdy place. What was going on ? The Norwegian came aboard with a badly battered face and he too made his way quickly to the foc?sle. And then came young Jum ,his face glowing with pride, ?Ah got ?em Brian ? he announced as he rubbed his bruised knuckles. ?Ah followed ?em round fra bar to bar ,I kept out o? they sight an? when one a ?em went fur a pish I got ?em ? he said brandishing his fists. None of them went back to rejoin their mates , they came back to the Thelma to hide their shame. Needless to say ,but Jums' hazing stopped from then onwards. He never took advantage of his mastery over them ,just reverted to being a deck boy.
Because we were so far behind schedule it was decided to cut out Stockholm and go straight to Oslo. I can?t recall our stay in Oslo, it was like Gothenburg but with weaker beer. I can remember an incident in our mess room though and the was one that concerned me. A vicar from the Oslo Flying Angel came aboard at lunch time and he came aft to see us sinners. I engaged him in an ecumenical debate and I could see that I had engaged the crews attention ,they sat opened mouthed as I waxed eloquently , we spoke of sailing ships, sealing wax and he gave as good as he got. As he rose to say good bye, he shook my hand and waved himself away. Suddenly the dam of silence broke and an incredulous Jimmy said ? D?ya realise that you were effin? an? blinding away there. I must have looked a picture because everyone broke out laughing. The old padre had?nt said a word ,I wander what his next sermon was like.?
All too soon it was time for our return, we had taken on stores so there was no danger of running out again and the sea was like a mill pond on our return.
We made it to Belfast without any incidents and while there we took on coal.
I have never seen a more hazardous way of coaling than the Belfast way. Two long planks of wood were placed just a few feet apart from each other, they bridged the gap between our ship and a coal wagon ,doughty little dockers toted the bags of coke up from the rail wagon running up to the fiddley where the emptied their sacks into the coal hole. These guys moved at such a lick that it was treat to watch, but I thought it was demeaning, they were treated very harshly by the shore boss and I heard that theyn considered themselves lucky to have that job. It is hard to reflect on the amount of poverty that I saw in Ireland back then. North and South ,it seemed the same, and outside the dock gates there were little boys tugging at your sleeves asking ? Have yer got a ponny mistor ?? Much in the same way that we used to ask the American servicemen if they had ?Any gum chum??
I never saw much of Belfast or Dublin ,we were in out and no messing about. We did?nt go back to Preston , the company wanted her back on schedule so we legged it back to Glasgow where I signed off. The baby had?nt been born yet I might just get home for it ,unless Charley Repp had other plans for me !
I remember being on a bulk carrier in the north Atlantic. It was rough so a handline had been strung along the deck - the rope being tensioned so that it was as taut as a handrail. It was brilliant for me as I had to go forward each day to dip the fuel tanks.
After about three days, the rope was so encased in frozen spray that the weight of the ice brought it down to the deck between the supporting stanchions. The entire ship looked like an ice palace, but not to the extent that the weight of ice threatened stability.
M was looking plump and rosy with her pregnancy, she positively bloomed
She had bought a little dog upon which lavished motherly affection,it was a nice little mutt but she did rather overdo it ; about its neck he sported a big multicoloured silk ribbon. She was treating him like a baby and I told her that when her baby arrived the mutt would not like it and might harm it. I was told not to be silly and so left well alone.
I spent a lot of time down at the Pool looking for a ship that was on fairly short runs and had good overtime, it looked Ellermans market boats were the ones to get, I?d been on the Catanian ( another one of Ellermans) and head been carried off on a stretcher in Lisbon, I?d also been on the Patrician and had a Voyage Not Completed in my book because I left her in the strike in 1960. I mught have difficulty in getting an Ellerman boat. While I was down at Mann Island I met Eddy Clark who I had sailed with on the Swan River . We struck lucky and both got a job on the Crosbian. She was an Ellermans ?Med? boat calling at Malta and Cyprus . I had?nt been to either place and so it would prove to be interesting as well as lucrative. She was smallish, about 1500 tons, and had a small deck crew. When we joined I found that amongst her existing crew was a youth who had been at the training school in Sharpness when I got there . He was a bully then, what would he be like now? Some of the older hands had been at sea during the war and a lot of us were mere striplings. B was still a bully and he seemed to be cock o? the walk. He would tell the older men what it had been like in the war, he would have been in pram for most of it,but they sat and said nothing.
I did?nt have the wisdom to realise that they thought he was a prat but did?nt want to provoke violence by saying so. Eddy and I used to rage inwardly,we knew he would marmalise us and we could only grit our teeth when he started. He did?nt mention the incident at the Vindicatrix when that little West Countryman took him to task for bullying us newcomers. I kept off the subject of the sea school in case it reminded him of his humiliation.
We had one old timer who was grizzled and weatherbeaten, the sea had shaped his features,he used to sit in the messroom and take the chaffing that some of the younger lads threw at him;he?d heard it all before. One smoko we were sitting there and the talk got round to French letters, were they a good thing or a bad thing. The talk was very salty and the lads used it as an excuse to boast about their conquests. , one of them ,seeing the old timer sitting on his own ,called to him ?D?ya ever use rubber johnnies George?? and he retorted quick as a flash ?Yerse , an? ya should smell the burnin? rubber!? We cackled with laughter.
The bosun was a quiet man who had a slight turn in his eye, he was always well turned out and never raised his voice, he knew his stuff to. He used to let B?s comments go unremarked ,me and Eddy could?nt understand why ,we later learned why.
The Crosbian was not a good sea boat,as one of the lads said,the bugger would roll on wet grass. She was top heavy and carried a permanent ballast of pig iron to counteract her top heaviness. Crossing the Bay of Biscay was a real test of our sea legs. The weather moderated as we passed Finisterre and it was plain sailing down to Malta. I was excited about our stop there because I had read about Jean De Vallette, one the defenders of Malta during the Turkish siege in the 16th century. The battle was of epic proportions and stemmed the rise of Islam in Europe. Most of the buildings and fortifications were supposed to be still in existence. And,in my lifetime ,Malta had also stood bravely against the Axis and had been awarded the George Cross by our own King George the 6th.
So I had a lot to look forward to.
Entering the Grand Harbour at Malta is awe inspiring, the buildings are mainly of honey coloured limestone and topped with red pantiles. In the first harbour you have the naval dockyards built around the Five Cities,an area not much bigger than Walton. This is overlooked by the Baraka Gardens high on the promonotory of Valetta. From there you can view Ismailia, the Grand Harbour and parts of Valetta. It is breathtaking. The whole island reeks with history,from that point alone you can see how fortified the place was. During the siege ,less than 7000 knights of the various orders stood defiant against the Ottoman forces who numbered 30,000. It gave me a thrill to stand where such a battle was fought.
The weather in Malta was bright and chilly, a cold wind was blowing from Europe and the Maltese were well wrapped up against the elements. Nothing like England but cold for them. We did?nt tie up alongside in Ismailia but were moored stern on to the quay and tied up to buoys astern of us. Our cargos was discharged into lighter that were made fast along our sides and trips ashore were made in Dghajsas ( pronounced diesoes ) little wooden boats with huge bow and stern posts and colourful paintwork at the bow and stern . The quay was only about 5 foot above the waterline and climbing in and out was no problem.
When we had made the Crosbian ready for discharging there was a dash for the showers so that we could get cleaned and shaved to go ashore.
Eddy and I went for a look around the town while it was still light, we had a laborious climb up the ancient stone steps and came out into a wonderful square ,it was lined with imposing palazzos and had lime trees growing on the pavements which would provide shade from the sun. There was a paseo going on when we arrived there. Young ladies and their chaperones were walking sedately aroung the square in a clockwise direction whilst groups of young men walked in an anti clockwise direction. This was where the young men sought out sweethearts. Everything seemed so demure. It was a rare place was Malta, a mixture of Arab, Spanish,Italian and lots of other races. The language was heavily influenced by Arabic ,with a touch of latin but it was scripted in European letters. The scene we saw before us showed the mixture of the cultures. We stayed only a little while and then we wandered into King Street which was lined with shops cafes and Tombola Houses. The Royal Navy was responsible for the proliferation of these, Tombola being the only form of gambling they would allow.
We met up with Georgie Almond in King Street and went into one of the Tombola Halls ,we got a couple of sheets each and commenced to play ,in vain alas ,for the caller was like a bloodstock auctioneer, spraying the numbers out of his mouth with a machine gun rapidity. The natives had no trouble but we three sailors could not keep up.
Around the corner from King Street is a thoroughfare that is known to sailors everywhere?..The Gut. This is a long street that runs downhill and then uphill and is lined with dance halls and cat houses. The place was heaving with humanity, some to buy love and others to sell it. Not a pretty sight, we opted for a dance hall where the music was loud and latino. The ladies were,without exception ,middle aged ;but we three were not out for nookey just for a dance. We stayed there for some time and then made our way to the dock. The wind had strengthened and was biting a bit. We got a shock when we got to the quay, the ferrymen had all gone home,too windy for rowing. The Crosbian was only yards away and we could?nt get aboard. I asked a passing policeman if they had any spare beds at the station. He nodded and told us to go with him .When we got there we were shown into a cell that was so lousy that you could the bed lice scurrying across the filthy mattress. We thanked him for his kind offer of a bed and said no thanks. He laughed and then took us back down to the quay. He went up to a door that was sandwiched between the roller shutters of two go downs and hammered on the door. A little Malt in longjohns and a cap on his head,opened up and let us inside. It was a genuine flophouse,he took us into a large room that was full of single beds, we paid him the equivalent of half a crown and dossed down for the night. It was a good bed and I was soon in the land of Nod. What surprises would tomorrow bring.
Below are some pictures which show King Street in the early 60's, the bow of a dghajsa, and a view of the Grand Harbour.
Last edited by brian daley; 08-14-2009 at 04:33 PM.
When I awoke in my ?flop? morning had broken and there was a queue of matelots and merchant Navy men waiting for a brew up. I looked at my watch ,it was breakfast time aboard ship and I hastened out to see if the boatmen were working. Luckily for us they were. After eating the bosun put us to work painting the ships side. The wind had slackened and the sun was out and the harbour was so busy that Eddy and I sat and took a good look around us to see what Malta was like in the daytime. In a word ?busy. The Navy dockyards were full of all manner of warships and there were launches and tugs pootling about ,cargo liners filled the mooring spaces and it was a delight to the eye. The navy had some old paddle wheel tugs and one of them was bustling across the Harbour from the dockyard to Valetta when ,unbelievably ,her whistle started shrieking and she seemed to ?waddle? and then she sank. It took about two minutes for this to happen and we two sat and stared, were we still drunk? As she went down there was a flurry of launches come around her and they were picking men out of the water and then, as her funnel disappeared there was a great gush of steam come aboiling from her innards. We never did get the full story of what happened because shortly after lunch we squared up and steamed out to sea.
Cyprus was our next destination and we would be calling at Limassol , Famagusta and Morphou. . Beautiful looking places but we had hardly any time in them to explore. There was still a fair bit of anti British feeling and the regular lads advised us not to stray too far from the docks. This was before Independence and there were lots of British Army lads to be seen on the streets. I was to go back years later and saw more of the places that I went to that time. Back home there was a shortage of potatoes and we picked up a special cargo of them in Cyprus and the captain said that we could each have a sack to take home. They were really appreciated by our families when we got home , but we are not there yet.
It was now April and the Spring weather made for a good run home; we were calling at Newport in South Wales to unload some copper pyrates, and some spuds and we would only be there for a day. It was Good Friday and so after getting the derricks ready the bosun said we could have a few hours ashore. Eddy and I took off double quick to have a few beers and a bite to eat. I?d never been to Newport before and I learned that some of the dockers used to like drinking ?scrumpy? ,a rough but strong apple cider. The scrumpy drinkers were noticeable by their voices, they were very husky, apparently the acid in the drink eroded the larynxes. Whether that was true or not I don?t know ,but I do know that there were an awful lot of hoarse voiced men down there.
We called at a pub a bit away from the dock road ,it seemed quiet so we went in and were just about to order a few drinks when we saw B in the backroom. We were standing in the front bar and could see through a big arch at the back of the bar. B was stripped to the waist and was smashing a guy in the face with his bare fists. His chest and arms were smeared with blood and he was roaring mad. We slunk out of the bar hoping he had?nt seen us. I was shaken to the core, he looked as though he was enjoying it!
We stopped at a bar on the dock road and had a short to settle our nerves and then made our way back on board. The sight that greeted us was even worse than that we saw in the bar. B was back on board ,fully dressed and roaring drunk. The crew were squaring away at N0 4 hatch and there were derrick guys and preventer wires to be put away, everyone was looking very industrious, everyone one except B and the bosun. B was standing facing the bosun, his knife dimpling the flesh about the bosuns Adams apple. He was mouthing the greatest obscenities at the bosun ,the knife held delicately against his throat. Nobody was taking any notice, Eddy and I got up on top of the hatch and were tidying up and we noticed B turn his attention to the Carpenter. Would?nt anyone do anything? We were cowards all ,just hoping that we would get by unscathed. And then ,of a sudden , B was standing below me, his arm held upward,brandishing that blade at my throat.
?Ya think I ?ave forgotten oo you are, doncha?? My stomach turned to liquid.
?Yer that feckin kid oo was at the Vindi ? There was a terrible scream rent the air. Mine , all the rage that I had felt toward this guy propelled me forward and I dropped my knees to his shoulders and slammed him into the deck. There ,astride him, I grabbed his ears and drummed his head onto the steel deck. Hands grabbed me from behind and dragged me away, the bosun grabbed him by the throat and delivered the most crushing blows to his face, other men kicked and thumped him and his body sagged and went limp.
He recovered sufficiently to join in the after gang as we let go . The bow of the ship astern was overlooking our poop ,a group of B?s mates called down to him and said they would see him in Liverpool. B then turned to me and said ? I?ll get you for this? pointing at his battered face. I flipped and shouted ?D?ya want yer mates to see yer get more?? He went white and fled amidships.. When we were clear and heading to the Irish Sea ,B said to me from across the hatchway ? Yer?ve got to sleep Daley.. I ?ll feckin do you then? Luckily the lads heard him and they kept watch on my door while I got some sleep.
We got into the Liverpool in the early hours of the morning, we would be signing off in the morning so it was?nt worth going home yet. B did though, at 2.30 in the morning he slipped away. Next day there was no sign of him at the pay off , I fully expected to get some kind of back lash. But I never saw him for quite a few years. I did learn that when he was walking along the Dock road that night ,he was challenged by a young constable about his appearance and an altercation then took place ,which ended with said constable adding a few more lumps to B?s physog with his truncheon.
When I got home I found that M had delivered a beautiful little baby girl, she also had a very attentive young man who was a friend of the family.
I realised that if I was to make a go of things then perhaps a job ashore would be more fitting. The times were changing.
Leaving the sea seemed such a massive step, I had 19 discharges in my book and had done 18 trips; I had?nt seen half the things I wanted to but I could see that marriage and the sea was a pretty bad mix for me.
My Granddad Hengler and some of my Dads brothers offered to get me on the docks working with them. Although I had been around the docks for nearly 4 years the prospect of working there did not appeal to me. I wanted a job with a future, I was 20 years old and quite fit ,what had I to offer an employer ? My Uncle Bill seemed happy in his job as a lorry driver ,that appealed to me but there was a snag, I could?nt drive ! I gave the buses some consideration, I went down to the Bus H.Q. and was given an application form which I filled in there and then. A short interview followed and then I was given a test paper to complete. It was all about fares with a mixture of maths. To my utter shame I failed. I dreaded facing the family and telling them that I was considered unfit to man a ticket punch. When I came out of the transport office I sauntered up to the Police H.Q., which was by the Philharmonic. I was given an interview and an I.Q. test ,which I passed with flying colours. I was then given an appointment to have an in depth interview the following week. I had enough funds to see me through
until then and went home excited by the opportunity that awaited me.
We were living in the front room of M?s house, her mum , dad and three of her brothers had the rest of the house.
When I gave them the news about my chance of a job with the police it was not very well received. The police were scuffers,no marks etc.,etc.,.
My own parents were pleased for me and I was on pins until the interview.
There were two officers on the interview board ,they had a folder in front of them and had obviously been checking me out . I passed the interview and was told that I would be sent to the training school in Broosh (I think that is how it was spelled) I would have to get a job ashore and they had sorted that out for me too. I was to go to Fisher Ludlows in Kirkby where I would be employed on a temporary basis until the next training class in Autumn..
I was given a letter from the officer which was signed by the Chief Constable, this was to be my bona fides for Fisher Ludlows and, because I was to work a week in hand , I was to present it at the National Assistance Board to claim a weeks pay. They had everything sorted!
I was?nt too popular with the in laws, the local police would often call and have a cup of tea and when I went to the pub by Bolton Avenue on Whitehouse Drive ,they would often call in there just to see how I was getting on.
Fisher Ludlows had not been open very long and there was a great buzz there ,the management were all from Birmingham and they were like Babes in the Wood. I was like a Babe in the Wood too!! I had never worked in a factory before and it seemed very claustrophobic, especially on the afternoon shift when you could see the blue skies out of the window and you were stuck inside like a caged bird. I was put in the vitreous enamel shop and had to give the drums of the Bendix washing machines a mottled enamel finish.
It was?nt hard work, just boring,our work flow was determined by the amount of hooks free on the furnace conveyor. I used to close down my conscious mind and relive some of the moments that I had spent at sea,it was the only way I kept sane.
At the end of the first week I went down to the NAB in Southdene and took my place in the very long queue of claimants. The guy who was in front of me had a leg and an arm in plaster. He told me that his benefit was not covering the family needs and that his union had awarded him a place at their convalescent home which was in Ely. If he went there it would mean one less mouth to feed at home and the family could just about get by. All he needed was a couple of pound for the train fare. He was very anxious and when his name was called he hobbled to the counter where he was treated abominably. He hobbled past me with tears streaming down his cheeks. My name was called and I presented myself at the window vacated by that poor unfortunate man. I proffered the letter from the police to the clerk ,he studied it for a little while and then said ?Very well Mr Daley?. How much money would you like?? I felt like screaming at the injustice of it, me with a wallet full of pound notes and that poor guy who could?nt rub two ha?pennies together.
In my second week at Fishers ,the works manager,a real flash Brummie (he looked like Alan Whicker) came to my spray booth and asked me if I had ever sailed on tankers .I told him yes and then he said I could, perhaps, help
him with a problem. I told him I would if I could. He led me outside to the ?backyard ?, a huge area ,and then showed me what looked like an Olympic swimming pool. It was the tank where all the vitreous enamel spray drained into and it was nearly full. He asked me if I could drain it for him?..ahh such ignorance is bliss. He asked me what I would require and I said abot 5 good strong men, about fifty 40 gallon oil drums ,buckets ,shovels and brooms. He told me to pick my own men and he would get the equipment organised. We could work the Saturday and Sunday at the regulation overtime rates. I was the most popular guy in the factory and I had no problem getting the five men.
On Saturday morning we decided to work in pairs and to take a side of the tank for each pair , it was a glorious summers day and we set to with a will. We were like an extremely well oiled machine ,we had a nylon rope on the bucket handle and we would drop it into the sludge and the haul it up and empty it into the 40 gallon drum. Come 5 o?clock we had half the drums filled; I picked up a piece of 2 by 2 and sunk it into the sludge ,it was about 8 foot deep and we had barely skimmed the surface.. I was stricken by my Methodist conscience. There was no way we were going to have any effect on this tank, but if we left it there we would lose a whole day at double time tomorrow. My conscience lost out to our united avarice. We pretended ignorance of the depth and spent the whole of Sunday filling the rest of the drums.
I was supposed to collect all the tools and return them to the stores, but I had reckoned without the cunning of those wily reprobates,they had thrown their shovels over the fence so that they could collect them later. And, if that was?nt bad enough, two of the villains had clocked their mates on for the two days making 10 of us instead of six.
I need?nt have worried though ,the works manager came to me on Monday morning and asked me how we got on, I told him the bad news and he never turned a hair.
There were so many bad working practises went on in that place that it was a wonder it lasted as long as it did. On the night shift some of the lads would get their heads down on the sacks in the Vit. Store. One West Indian ,called Henry went the whole hog and got his head down in the first aid room, he was found by the nurse next morning,shoes under the bed ,next to a full bed pan, trousers hanging on the back of a chair, as snug as he would be at home.
Things at home were not developing as I had expected, I was being enmeshed into M?s family and wanted us to look for a place of our own. It was not an idea that went down well with the in laws. As the weeks became months the frustrations began to mount and I realised that I was not going to make it like this. Life was becoming colourless,the joy and laughter that had been ever present was fast disappearing..
On the last day of July I presented myself back at the Pool , I went back to sea ;we would be able to save quicker that way and we could ,perhaps ,put a deposit down for a place of our own.
Saying goodbye was easy ,I could sense the relief in that house as I set off to join my new ship. When I said goodbye to my folks there was an understanding of what I was doing ,even though I did'nt realise it myself??I was escaping!
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