When I arrived in Portsmouth barracks I found yet another illustration of the practical use of psychology, and while it was on a more lowly plane it was no less effective, it was the axiom of the ‘Messenger’. Those who wished to remain in barracks without let or hindrance, as the lawyers might say, fully vitalled, fully paid and with their rum ration intact, possessed themselves of several ports-of-call and a piece of paper. The specification of a port-of-call was firstly a place one could legitimately be heading for, with said piece of paper. Secondly it also had to be near a ‘caboosh’. A caboosh was somewhere one could disappear into, sleep in, was personal to one or shared with someone one trusted, and had been forgotten. It could take many forms. It might be a tiny room amounting to little more than a very large cupboard, rarely used and large enough to sling a hammock. It could be a small room or even a separate building, in which generators or some other self-operating piece of machinery could operate without much, if any, maintenance. It had to be forgotten by the establishment, or surplus to requirements, and it had to be lockable so a new lock could be fitted, for obvious reasons. Cabooshes were often shared.
It was then merely a matter of passing from one caboosh to another throughout the day, making sufficient appearances to be known by sight by authority and therefore become accepted as an essential part of the system. The Messenger had to travel so fast it was unlikely he would be stopped and questioned, and the paper, probably one of many, if it was examined at all, should fit any situation and would add that final patina of legitimacy. Authority, with its hundreds appearing and disappearing every week, could never have policed the assemblage.
At nineteen I was obtaining an education which in future years made me the most suspicious person Soph had ever encountered. I was not in barracks for long, but it was an unforgettable experience. For a start, up until then I had either bought cigarettes at six pence a packet on the ship or rolled my own from my tobacco ration which consisted of a pound of tobacco, cigarette or pipe, once a month, in airtight half-pound tins, for about one shilling and sixpence. However, somewhere in the bowels of the barracks was a small community, who manufactured cigarettes out of the standard tobacco issue and sold them in boxes of 400, at three shillings and four pence.
The quarters had varied little since Nelson, steel framed buildings like warehouses, with tall factory-like windows and rooms so high one had to put one’s head back to see the ceiling. In the centre were lockers and running down the centre and two sides were the rails on which the hammocks were tied. This in itself was interesting as on rare occasions, drunks would come ‘off shore’ – navalese for coming back from a night out – quietly tie a sleeping man in his own hammock as he slept, using his hammock lashing, then they would climb up onto the beams and raise the poor devil until he was about ten to twelve feet from the floor and tie him there. It would only be when he wakened that he would be aware of his predicament and by then the drunks would be too fast asleep to enjoy the joke. He, meanwhile, would be scared to move in case the hammock was not secure.