The Chiefs’ & Petty Officers Rum
This Mess treated Rum like the Romans treated Jupiter and the tradition also was unique in my experience. Daily at eleven o’clock a deep-sided dish was placed on the Mess table containing fresh water. Three average sized tumblers were place, upended, in the water for the men to take their rum from. Beside it was a small skillet containing the neat rum Each man, when it suited, either logistically or from preference, would enter the Mess, measure out his tot with a steady hand, making sure the maximum possible meniscus was formed on the top of the measure before tipping it quickly and deftly into one of the tumblers. The speed of hand and the deft flick of the wrist ensured that none was spilled, no matter what the sea conditions might be; then the measure would be held to drip into the glass until every vestige of rum had drained from it – each drop was precious. When the rum had been sipped with relish – it was never drunk – the glass was then turned upside down and placed once more in the ‘rum water’ to drain’.
One day, shortly after I had arrived on the ship, I found I was the last to collect my ration and after I had completed the whole ritual I moved to lift the dish with the ‘rum water’, prior to throwing it out. There were several Petty Officers in the Mess and with one voice, accompanied by several choice expletives, they wanted to know what the xxx hell I was xxx doing with the xxx rum water. I took this syntax as Navy-speak and it ran off me like water off a duck’s back I explained how I was just being tidy and was going to get rid of the dirty water. I failed to add that it was adulterated by the saliva of everyone in the Mess as well as the rum, and it was just as well I did because I was then treated to a lecture, a diatribe even, on my antecedents first of all, then my lack of mental capacity, my total unsuitability for Naval life and finally, the reason for the harangue – it was the Chief Stoker’s day to drink the ‘rum water’.
Apparently this water had a faint taste of rum due to the drips which had run from the glasses each time they had been used and each of the Chiefs and PO’s had their day in an unwritten roster to drink this spittle-soup. You can imagine, I was terribly contrite, I could not have been anything else in the circumstances, I was afraid I might burst out laughing. It is conceivable in 2006 that this was a prank played on an ingenue, but the fierceness of the attack and subsequent drinking, turn about, made it real and very earnest. Because I was a Killick (the equivalent rank to a Leading Seaman) in a Chiefs and PO’s Mess, and worse still an HO (Hostilities Only) hardly dry behind the ears, I was not only barely tolerated, there was an underlying resentment of the fact that I had been foisted on the C & PO’s and thus was benefiting from the privileges and freedom they had striven for over years, man and boy. The whole thing was understandable, but rough on me because I had to take the brunt through no fault of my own. I had to walk softly and I was not allowed to carry a big stick.