‘Hells-a-poppin’

We were entering harbour with our new Skipper in charge and most of the crew were getting into what was referred to as their Number Ones, their shore-going gear, their Sunday suits, when suddenly we were thrown to the deck. We’d hit the harbour wall. It was at the time when our place at the head of the convoy as Flotilla Leader had been usurped and we were demoted because of the rank of our new Skipper. No one was pleased with the situation and, if by chance he had won the Irish lottery, the crew would have griped that he had managed to do it when the kitty was low, that was how they felt about the state of things. He, the Skipper, had inadvertently called for ‘full ahead’ when he had meant ‘full astern’, or that was the gossip, the scuttle-butt. That was not what annoyed the men, they would have applauded the act if it had come off properly, but the idiot had managed to hit a rubbing strake, a fixed fender made of hardwood which was attached to the harbour wall just for that event, instead of hitting the wall itself. The blow had been fended off to some extent and all that was damaged was the Skipper’s pride and a few of the bow plates; instead of shifting the engines on their mountings and putting us into dry dock for a month with oodles of home leave. He was not popular. What was worse still was that as we were shortly due for a boiler clean they proposed putting a collision mat on the bow and sending us off on convoy next day, with the pumps trying to keep the water down.. A collision mat is a heavy tarpaulin which is tied over the hole and mainly held in place by the pressure of the water as the ship ploughs through the waves. It is a bit more scientific than that, but that’s the main idea. The whole business had been totally mishandled as far as the lower deck was concerned.

During the previous trip I had developed severe tooth ache and as the Sickbay Tiffy was not licensed to do dentistry I had to be content with pain killers until we reached Sheerness. There I went ashore to the Naval hospital and was attended to by a Surgeon Captain Dentist – a four-ringer, no less. “Does this hurt?” he asked tapping a tooth and trying to anaesthetise me at the same time with a waft of stale gin. ‘No!’ I said. ‘Nor this?’, tapping again. ‘Ouch’ I said. I’m no stoic. ‘Right!’ he said, but I could not answer as I had a mouthful of his right fist. There was a push and a pull, a quick tweak, and there was one of my sacred molars at the end of his pliers. He admired it from every angle. ‘Nothing wrong with that one,’ he said, ‘Must have pulled the wrong one’, he added. ‘Had to come out sometime. Open wide!’

I was sore and annoyed and fed up into the bargain. It was raining cats and dogs. I had missed the rest of the crew who were off somewhere and so I mooched the streets until I espied a cinema with a film called ‘Hells-a-poppin”. It is that daft film where a man comes on at the beginning of the film with a pine tree sapling in a pot, and all through the film he reappears with it having grown more and more each time until in the last reel the tree is on its side, on a low loader, with a bear up in the top branches. The film cheered me so much I nearly forgot the incident, the idiot dentist, his halo of gin, but not ‘Hells-a-poppin”. Think what I could have claimed from the Government today for incompetence.

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