Royal Navy 1941 to ’46 in order,The First Boiler Clean and Kissing

At intervals the Hunt destroyer had to go into dock to have the boiler tubes cleaned as they became choked with salts from the water used to make steam. Part of the crew not on watch was allowed on leave for the four days it took. I decided to go London to see my Mother and friends. My family, like many at that time, while not unique were still living as if Victoria was still on the throne. We didn’t show emotion, and sentiment was laid on like gold leaf. Kissing was certainly a rarity.

On board the night train from Edinburgh to Euston, I was to learn the rules of the game of Brag, a version taught by stokers, Those night trains were an experience. Almost totally blacked out, masks had been placed over the corridor and carriage lights, illuminating a narrow strip of light in stops and starts along the gangway and across the knees of the seated passengers in the carriages, so they could read. People were just vague figures with illuminated laps in the case of women, generally in rough khaki or navy-blue serge, with brown or black lisle stockings emerging from a short skirt. I found a seat in a compartment where a naval great-coat covered the knees and Brag was being played. . From the start it was totally loaded against me because by the time I had learned what few rules there were and mastered the rudiments I had lost every penny I had on boarding the train, which amounted to about two months pay. Having borrowed the tram fare, I left Euston, deflated and depressed. As I got closer to home my spirits rose, after all I was a sailor home from the sea, and proud of it. I envisaged big hugs of joy because I was still in one piece. I had forgotten Queen Vicky! As I walked down the hall I saw my mother working in the kitchen, ‘Hello!’ she said, turning her head. ‘Put the kettle on I’ll be with you in a minute’, and that was that, it was as if I had only come home from the office. I should have remembered.

So it is not surprising that I find the current practice of hugging and kissing on meeting, even between casual acquaintanceships, bizarre to say the least and embarrassing in my own case. For me kissing is a significant expression of love and reserved for my special few. Some years ago I used doggerel to vent my views. I am incapable of posting doggerel on the Blog as it is normally writ- read it at your peril!


They’re kissing air, kissing past my face, never hitting base. Kissing everywhere, Kissing into space. Am I unclean, just a bit malodorous? Maybe not – perhaps just too presumptuous. Kissing me, would Beauty find preposterous? Maybe else, cosmetically disastrous. I find it strange, this current craze, of course I know, it’s just a phase, started by the Arty, worried what they’d catch at a party. When I was young you kissed your Mum, and Aunts with plenty of lolly. When I was older and bolder, it was all just fun and folly. Then came the bit where kissing meant something more, a sentiment, not taken in jest, not lightly, the meaning clear and unlikely to be confused, misunderstood. From then there was no likelihood that kissing was a social grace, an empty gesture with no place for subtle nuances of love, paternal, filial, and above else sexual connotation, not for general misquotation. So please forgive me if you find, I’m not a kisser, the kind so prevalent today I find, I’m really not at all inclined,

More About Haircuts

The Ploy. A few years ago we moved house, hence we moved service providers and I found a new barber. If you mention his premises to those spending anything from fifteen quid to a ton, just for a haircut, they’ll double up laughing – that is the risk you take and I took it. My next door neighbour, a customer with perfect styling, warned me, but said nothing about the ‘Ploy’. For eighteen months I was a happy chappie, it was cheap, quick and looked OK to me, then I came across Sweeny Todd, who had the chair near the door. The back of my head has an overhang of skull, rather like those on mountains you see rock climbers negotiating on TV. Sweeny didn’t probe, he got out the oscillating mower and proceeded from somewhere near the spine to shear a straight furrow which I assume was intended to end just above the nose, but he hit the bone – there it all came to a stop and naked skin was revealed – not to me, I was dreaming. I really didn’t discover the damage until Soph became apoplectic. There was no way I was going back, and only then did I discover the ‘Ploy’. Entering the barber’s, my neighbour picks up anything to read. If Sweeny says ‘Next!’, my mate turns to the next man in the queue and says, ‘You go ahead, I want to finish this article.’

It’s fair to say that Soph and I are conventional where it comes to the tonsorial arts. We think we have seen everything from the puce Mohican to the total all-off. Of course I too have been as guilty as anyone of disobeying parental strictures and of presenting an abstruse fashion to my betters. The thought was reawakened when Soph criticised one of the grandsons by telling him he should keep his hat on in the house as what he had had done to himself horrified her. In truth, of course, she was wrong on all counts. Firstly he had not done it to himself, he had told his fashionable lady hairdresser to give him the most up to date haircut she could as he would be performing on stage next day. So it was a professional production, in the modern style of high quality, and, we heard later that it was greatly admired by his contemporaries.

In the 30’s, I would be taken to Posnickers, a ‘high class’ ladies hairdressing emporium where boys were attended to as a ‘perk’ with all the pomp of paper then cotton wool in the neck before a scented smock was draped. There was a great show of fresh air snipping of the scissors before a carefully measured cut could be achieved, and so on. My Grandmother called many of my friends ‘Gutter-snipes’, make of that what you will, but then she also called the shop Potlickers. The friends went to a small shop where the proprietor seemed to own nothing more technical than an electric clipper and a comb, and a bit of toilet paper was all that restrained the detritus from annoying the spine for the rest of the day. He too used the clippers like a lawn mower, starting at the nape of the neck and travelling up and over until stopping just short of the very front, so that when all was done, in the matter of about a minute, the head was nearly bald except for a small tuft front and centre which was intended to peek out from under the school cap. I think the practice had come down the years from the First World War trenches, where the men cut each other’s hair and lice was the real problem.

One morning, I was now old enough to go on my own so she gave me the money and let me loose. Coincidentally the ‘Gutter Snipes’ were gathering to make a concerted assault on their shop . I joined with relief, now I would conform, be like the rest, another tuffty – which I duly became. I took my cap off at every shop window to admire the result and I stayed out rather than going to face the music which would be forte, forzando, sostenuto, loud, strongly accented and sustained – which it indeed was. Once again I was grabbed, hurried to Potlickers. Mr ‘P’, looked with horror, shrugged, and that was that I conformed for nearly a month.

Today I find it strange that a large proportion of the male population has opted for, the almost all-off haircut. Is it because we religiously follow the mores of Harlam,? where the all-off is almost indistinguishable from the all-on? Is it because the number of competent hairdressers has diminished so that people no longer can afford to pay them and take the cheap way out? Or perhaps there is now a propensity of bald men who have set the fashion so that no one knows they are different and are making everyone else conform to their fashion? One thing is certain, everyone seems to have forgotten that an all-off is a sign that an infestation has invaded the neighbourhood.

April Fools Day, Idiocy 2

The case of the ‘window glass’; The head of the office, Carl, a very diligent man, very clever but detached from reality, was a terror for detail, which did not endear him to some of the staff. He made the mistake of ordering glass with the office phone. It was for home, to be fitted at the weekend. A while later, a joker went to another extension of the telephone and called him up, resulting in some of us being party to both ends of the conversation. It went something like this, ‘This is McCalla’s, I understand you were ordering glass, I have your order here, you ordered…’ the joker read back the order exactly. Carl was both convinced and hooked. ‘Is there a problem?’ he enquired meekly. ‘Well sir, my assistant didn’t find out whether it was bedroom glass, drawing room glass, kitchen – and so on.’ the joker said, extemporising as he went. ‘Is there a difference?’ asked the bemused Carl. A fair question – the answer should have been ‘No’, but the self-styled expert was now off at a gallop giving his imagination full rein. ‘Of course there is,’ he said and went on to explain that there was an ingredient in bedroom window glass which encouraged tranquillity, that drawing room glass was a lot clearer as would befit the best room in the house, and so on. It was a virtuoso performance by the joker and the rest of us were enjoying the joke, as much because we could not believe it was possible to convince anyone of such preposterous claims. In the end Carl, who was also parsimonious, settled for kitchen window glass throughout, because while it might not be absolutely first class it was cheap – and he was in charge?

The Audition How often has one heard the saying, when children are almost hysterical with laughter, there will be crying before bedtime. In this office a similar situation arose whereby the jokers overreached themselves and a joke became really hurtful.

Eric, a good engineer, a hard worker, had a private hobby he rarely talked about, he sang in his church choir and entered the occasional singing competition. In some quarters he was not popular. The first I heard of the business was when he came to me, full of pride to tell me that the Musical Director of the local BBC had heard him sing on Sunday, and had offered him an audition. He was like a cat with ten tails. He took the day off and was seen in his best bib and tucker heading for the BBC. Next day he related what had happened. He had arrived, stated why he was there, and that was the end of it. – no audition. I believe the BBC, should have believed his story and secondly, given him a short audition, it would not have wasted too much of their time, and if his voice was as good as it was alleged to be the process might have been productive. In throwing him out, they were contributing to making the joker’s joke more hideous.

Helicopters On the Runway Job we were a small compact staff with offices near the hangers. We worked for the Admiralty and the aerodrome was also a repair facility for the Fleet Air Arm. A helicopter was being overhauled and some of the staff were itching for a flight. As I dined in the Officer’s Mess, I arranged it – nothing more – I didn’t make any conditions – merely asked the pilot if it was possible. He agreed and smiled.

The day dawned, the chaps were lined up, introduced to the pilot, climbed on board and off they went. From time to time I had taken short hops to Scotland in a small plane and I knew what Naval pilots were like, in landing it was best to keep the eyes shut as the plane spiralled down to land in tight circles and fast – the horizon and the land in front of one spiralled – like a top – it was enough to make even a hardy sailor sick. Naval pilots land on the decks of rolling ships, not long runways. I watch the helicopter, the pilot was having a ball, the only thing he didn’t do was fly upside down. Every man jack was green, as they stepped down – I don’t know if any of them even thanked the pilot – he was smiling quietly, as one does when having been generous.

The Building Site – Lessons Learned

Engineering Students were required to have a holiday job on a building site as training. I was taken on at a building site constructing houses, and involved in the supervision of the road and sewer contract, under the guidance of the Clerk of Works, whom I had run in with over the Orangemen. It was on this contract I learned to work in the most appalling weather conditions and the most important lesson of all, that disrespect would be shown to those in authority who displayed weakness in any form. I also saw how experience is worth a ton of theory.

The site was squarely on the tail end of what had once been a glacier in the Ice Age and now consisted of fine sand ground by the ice from the rocks over which it passed. The sewer was not merely being constructed in sand, it was in a feared ground condition known as running sand, – sand which has no stability and without warning can collapse burying men working in it, unless suitably supported. Digging sewers in running sand is both hazardous and costly on account of the precautions which have to be taken. Some contractors tend to take a chance, cut corners, in the hope all will be well and they will get away with it. Such was the case on this site, suddenly the wall of the trench, improperly supported, with a man in the bottom laying a pipe, collapsed without warning and started to build up round the man like sand in an hour glass. Without a second’s thought the foreman, standing on the side of the trench, lifted a shovel and projected it like a javelin at the man’s head, or so it seemed. Certainly, if the man had nodded he would have been cleaved. The shovel stabbed into the sand in front of the pipe-layer’s face and as the sand built round him it formed an airspace in front of his face and, for the time it took to rescue him, he was able to breathe. Experience, not theory had saved that man’s life.

The next lesson had its funny side, but where I was concerned it taught me that the men on the site, watch everything, particularly where it concerns authority, and it can be every bit as cruel as some of the men I had encountered in the Navy. The engineer in charge of the contractors, whom I shall call Jones, was a strange fellow. I have never found his equal since. I’m convinced he was divorced from reality and if the site staff, the junior engineers and the foremen had not been so efficient, he would have foundered long before I came across him. Building sites are as class-ridden as any segment of British society and the privileges are jealously guarded. At the bottom of the heap are the tea boys, errand boys who are learning to be labourers and then hoping to graduate to tradesmen. It is their duty to go for cigarettes, go to the bookies on behalf of the men, buy food, make tea and work on the site, in that order of priority. They are cheeky, full of
fun and more than tolerated by the men on the site. The engineer, Jones, would come on to the site, no matter what the conditions were like underfoot, dressed in light trousers, fine shoes, a smart suit and colourful tie and then proceed to pick his way from dry patch to dry patch as he continued down the site, like someone doing the balancing act on precarious stepping stones in a fast flowing river. It was both predictable and inevitable that the tea boys would not only see him as he progressed, they would come out from the various corners in which they had been concealed and would then follow him down the site in a line, imitating his every move and gesture and then, like Grandmother’s footsteps, they would stop and appear nonchalant should he turn. This performance was more than a bit of fun, it was an expression of what all the men felt about Jones. I believe the tea boys would not have had the temerity to ridicule the man unless they
had heard comments by the men during meal breaks, it was then they knew they were on a winner.

There was one slightly vulgar story concerning Jones which was going the rounds. Apparently he was doing his site inspection when he came across a man in the bottom of the trench digging. Each time the man shovelled up a load of earth and threw it on the side of the trench he grunted. Jones stood watching him for quite some time and when he could resist it no longer he accosted the man. “I say,” he said in superior tones. “Is it necessary to grunt every time you use your shovel?” The foreman and the ganger were aghast, what the man did while digging was of no consequence, how much he dug and how well, was all that mattered. The man stood up slowly, stabbed his shovel into the loose earth, slowly turned and looked up at the engineer. He was well aware who he was, no one on the site was otherwise. “Wha’ ja say?” Jones had to repeat himself. The man looked at him for a moment as if he was examining something new to his experience and then said, “If you was digging this, every time you lifted the shovel you’d shit yourself, when I lifts it I grunts.” With that he turned and went on digging. “I want this man sacked.” Jones told the foreman, but the man was not sacked. Ask a silly question, you are likely to get a silly answer.

Dog Crazy 2

My relations are all slightly dotty about dogs. I wrote Dog Crazy 1, so boringly, I fell asleep myself. This made me think about pets, and dogs especially. If you look at Crufts’ on TV, do you ever wonder how people could possibly love some of those ugly crossbreeds, and even more, stress that some of the uglier features are essential to win the class? I used to fancy Red Setters; a vet told me they were very stupid and had the tiniest brains of all – who cares! They are not going to be much help with the Times crossword anyway.

When we had dogs, they were allowed to walk off the lead, and if trained to be obedient, and obey the Kerb Code, a walk was a pleasure. Today I am not sure why people still own dogs; walking on a lead is traumatic enough for man and beast, and picking up the droppings, while being hygienic and logical, must put many off. Our dogs would walk sedately, acknowledged the territory markings and contributed a vast number themselves, but they didn’t try to trip you up, or look up ladies skirts, like those in the arena at Crufts – their performance is bizarre, to say the least and totally unnatural.

Dogs are a lot brighter, and obsequious, than we give them credit for, and can call us to heel if the mood takes them. My daughter is a camper and if the trip is protracted puts her dog in kennels. While packing is going on, the dog lies right across the front door as a barrier, and on return sulks for days – guess who has a fit of conscience. Generations of pets now have guile in their make-up. That slightly soppy grin, the tongue nearly lolling, the moist, large and appealing eyes, and the head cocked, – you are hooked, if generations of dog lovers have put the response in your genes also.

In the Navy, teaching, I found the most beautiful hound, tied to a door handle. The Wren said the dog was to be shot for sheep worrying. It looked at me, I patted – I lost! That night ‘Josie’ was on the train to my recalcitrant mother in London. She was a one off, – the dog, not my mother, – on second thoughts – mother too! The dog could scale a seven to eight foot, creeper covered wall, walk along the top, and along tree branches, and turn – chasing very surprised cats. She was never happier than when riding pick-a-back with her face looking over the besotted human’s shoulder – control? They have us licked!

The Fleas Josie was inquisitive. At Christmas ’44 my new wife Sophie, came over from Belfast to stay with me on leave, at the Dutch Resistance School my mother managed. Our temporary bed was a mattress on a floor. Josie, on a walk, in the moonlight, saw a hedgehog.. The little animal rolled into a ball as the dog barked fruitlessly. I picked it up with my Naval cap and took it to show Soph. She was in bed, on the floor, reading. I set the hedgehog down and immediately the floor, the sheet and part of Soph were all infested in fleas. We used a Hoover and DDT, but Sophie never really got over it. The following morning, when I woke, there in the middle of Soph’s forehead was a single flea – I didn’t tell her, it went. We let the hedgehog free in the garden.

In the 30’s young women were called ‘Flappers’ and had fads like all crazies. My Aunt wore a bangle on her upper arm, held in place by a handkerchief. She lost it, sent a Black Labrador to find it by scent , The dog was jumping on thorns to reach the handkerchief on a wild rose. Another time a replacement bread delivery man, the dog didn’t recognise, was held captive by the same dog in the garden until someone returned to release him – at some cost.

Spicer our Golden Retriever I have been subjected to ridicule, considered totally besotted, but I do believe that dog had a sense of fun. The children liked to play ‘Lost’. We would go to woods, I would wander off through the trees, and the children would pretend to be distraught. In due course the dog found me, with great praise and much tail wagging. Daft as it may seem, I proved to my own satisfaction she could make up practical jokes. At night we took the dog for a walk so she wouldn’t bark through the night. Often she would walk quietly up the drive, and then, in sight of the front door, suddenly shoot off, out through the hedge and away up the road. She was undoubtedly aware she had to be in at night and would therefore have to be collected. After about three of these occurrences over a period of a month I discovered I could predict when she had it in mind. About a hundred yards from the house she started to oscillate her back hips in a strange manner while similarly shaking her head – I was convinced she was rehearsing in her mind. Once near the house she was nearly off – but I had been warned.

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2007 to all my readers, especially the large number I assume are on the four to twelve am shift, or like me, need less sleep now. I have been a watch-keeper. I found the trick, after you have settled in, was to find something to do to keep one alert, especially if you are on your own. I hope I am not being presumptuous in thinking this stuff helps.. To mildly amuse those working on Xmas Day I tell another ridiculous story and a Xmas one.

The Day I Nearly Shot Granny I was on leave from the Navy in 1942 when there was very nearly a disastrous accident. Gran asked me to look through my grandfather’s toolbox to see if there was anything I fancied as she was ‘clearing out’. I found a gun, an old, out of date revolver. Gran explained that one of my grandfather’s jobs involved carrying money, and for protection he bought the revolver I was looking at. I took it out to the garden the better to see it and found it was a type I had never seen before. Revolvers today have a hammer which strikes the centre of the cartridge, in these older ones, the hammer fired the cartridge by striking a rim pin set in the edge of the cartridge at the side, at right angles to the axis of the cartridge. Being unfamiliar with the system I spent fruitless time trying to find how the chamber opened. To be safe I fired what I thought were six shots in the air but the chambers were empty. I remember that above us, glistening in the sun, was a barrage balloon, simply calling to act as a target, but I resisted.

I then called Gran over to show her the gun. We stood examining it at the back door and I told her how I had fired it, and to show it was empty I pointed it casually at the ground and fired once more. You’ve guessed it! The wretched thing had one more cartridge. It hit the ground between our feet and ricocheted with a whine off down the garden. For a moment we stood looking at one another dumbfounded and while I could see no funny side to it, realising that the ricochet could have severely injured her, Gran gave a shaky laugh. The gun had either seven or eight chambers instead of the current norm of six.

A Christmas Story -The Shooting Sheet Of Flame
Christmas Lunch was over, the majority of the family wanted to stretch their legs and the children to push, ride or wear what Santa had brought. My young nephew, Ian, elected to stay with me as I was on duty – my mother was ill in bed. We then sat at the fire and chatted. The room was resplendent with Christmas decorations and Christmas cards on every level surface. The fire was nearly out; if the family came back, feeling righteous but cold, this would be frowned upon. I went in search of paraffin to sharpen it up. The can was empty. Not for the first time I decided to take the risk of using turpentine. I added fresh coal sprinkled turps and then found the Christmas cards had usurped the matches on the mantelpiece. By the time I found them seconds had elapsed. Through all this time Ian had been standing beside the fireplace watching the proceedings silently, taking all in but reserving judgement, while turps fumes were expanding, I struck the match
and offered it to the fire.

For a second nothing happened and then, between Ian and myself, a sheet of orange flame came from the fireplace, out some four feet into the room and then just as quickly returned up the chimney. Ian’s expression intrigued me, once I was over the shock of our personal flame-thrower – not so much the expression as the lack of it. His head had followed the the flame out of the grate and back in with total equanimity, The next phase was less dangerous but much more troublesome. For an instant there was silence and then there was a rumbling like one hears standing in a house built over the Tube Railway in London when a train is passing below. Buckets of soot descended into the grate, into the fireplace and spilled out further. Not only that, a cloud of the stuff settled on every available surface throughout the room. Above, my mother’s wavering voice was questioning what was going on, her bedroom shared the same chimney stack so she had been party to the rumble. I said there was nothing to worry about, and proceeded to clean and Hoover up, which really meant a full Spring Clean of the place, cards and all. Ian and I sat back with a newspaper over the fireplace to encourage the fire into life, when there was another rumble and yet more soot. The moral would seem to be that if in doubt, don’t, and also that some nephews should regard uncles and their decisions with a keen suspicion.
Have a good Christmas – best wishes, John – A Very Old Gaffer

The Toboggan Run

For the sake of those who have only recently joined, here is a golden Oldie, to the rest, I ask your indulgence.

I have said in the intro I was a latchkey child of a one parent family, I was also the baby sitter for a brother whose main aim was to gum red bars of Lifeboy Carbolic Soap with relish. I had just been introduced to ball-bearing roller skates and, when not at school, lived on wheels from breakfast until bedtime. It was a way of life which had been denied me in Africa because there were few paved areas on which to skate, but now I had discovered them, I was learning fast, if at the cost of sheets of my skin.

One Saturday Mother instructed me to take charge of Baby, who was sitting in one of those old fashioned, deep bodied, prams nannies would wheel in Hyde Park. I was rarely intentionally mischievous, rather I was inventive and given to ill-considered impulses. This time, becoming bored with pushing Baby round the roads at a snail’s pace, with no opportunity for adventure or self expression, I thought of the idea of skating with the pram, so two birds could be dealt with at one go, duty and speed. This too became boring until I realised that I had been doing the circuit the wrong way. If I tackled it anticlockwise I would have to descend a steep hill, instead of climbing it. This opened up a much better prospect and I proceeded to perfect the Toboggan Run system of perambulation, whereby the perambulator became the toboggan with Baby acting as ballast.

At nine years old I found this system so simple and so splendid I wondered no one had thought of it before. One skated to the top of the hill by any route. When on the flat, one turned the pram round, ducked under the handle and grasped the sides of the pram with the hands, put the chest on the back rim of the pram, and then skated as never before. When the whole unit was reaching Mach 2, one lifted one’s feet, skates and all, and then tobogganed down the hill accelerating the while, much to the enjoyment of Baby.

The game went on for the rest of the session until the moment when Mother rounded a corner to be met with the sight of her last-born hurtling towards her and no sign of anyone controlling the pram. I was hidden by the hood and the body of the pram and was almost alongside Baby as a passenger. In spite of the fact that Baby clearly thought the whole idea marvellous and also in spite of my assurances that it was absolutely safe, Mother put an end to a sport which might have had international recognition.The success of the venture outweighed the punishment to such an extent I can’t remember the form retribution took, but then I always did take punishment as a rod to be borne in the search for excellence.

College Capers

STUDY AND THE BENZEDRINE PILL For years I have known I can’t be taught, I prefer to read books and find out for myself. Whether, as I suspect, the droning of another voice hypnotises me, or whether I just nod off, all I know is I tend to get on better on my own. My wife, a teacher of Modern Languages was a little miffed as French was one of the subjects I was to sit for the entrance exam, Demobbed, hoping to get into Queens University to read Engineering on an ex-service grant, I started the cram course. The guy I went to for a cram, had a classroom over the Fifty Bob Tailors at the Junction in Belfast. He was also none too pleased when another student and I started to teach him mathematics instead of the reverse. Learning French was pure memory, so a tutor merely had to mark exercises. In the case of the Crammer, he was so far behind current day thinking in mathematics, he was practically using the abacus to calculate what we owed him in fees.

This other student was a real character, he was doing the same exam as I because he had been in the Naval Commandos and been demobbed at roughly the same time. We would meet at the Crammers’ and then go for a drink afterwards. We discussed our relative careers and when that palled we worked at examples we were sure the Crammer was making a mess of. Slowly the time drew near, we were both working hard and comparing notes when we met, and on one occasion he showed me some Benzedrine tablets he had which were left over from beach-landings he had taken part in. He was using them from time to time so he could study through the night without sleep. I warned against it without success, in my case I was merely resorting to coffee and tobacco.

The day of the Exam dawned and I entered the world of the university for the first time. We sat in the Great Hall, with darkened oak or mahogany woodwork, stained-glass windows and a gnarled, stained, wooden floor. The little desks in rows in isolation. The atmosphere was austere and not a little intimidating. I was esmerised just by being there, in a place I knew all my family in England would revere. My wife had trod those boards two years earlier. We had been given examination numbers and when I looked across to where I expected to see my friend his desk was empty and stayed so. I found later he had succumbed to the Benzedrine and when he should have been at Queens he was in hospital. I have said he was a character, that is true, he was larger than life and when his name hit the headlines in Northern Ireland it only went to prove the point. Failing to get into Queen’s he had left and gone to the rigorous climes of Northern Canada to work in the oil fields, and it was there he walked for days in the harshest conditions of blizzards and ice, without food, to fetch help, when he and some of his work mates had been involved in an accident. The feat was so extraordinary it was even carried in the press here.

THE BOXING MATCH In second year, I offered an opinion, it always heralds trouble. The men were wondering what sort of show to put on, on Rag Day. Instead of just a procession, I suggested a static show, slap stick, to gather the crowds and collect more money, – provide ourselves with a captive audience. I was inveigled to join another ex-serviceman in An Olde Time Boxing Match. We were to wear combinations, I was to black my face and wear a Fez. I was six foot two of Great Mustapha. He was the British challenger – five foot nothing of cheeky chappy. We set off in the procession with our seconds and marched from the University to the centre of High Street. There was an open space left by the demolition of bombed buildings In the meantime some of the gang went ahead and set up a ring. The performance predictably followed the usual circus ring craft, although we were probably not as crafty. A lot of water was thrown about, punches were thrown and of course, Mustapha must-ave-a beating – which he duly received. To finish it all off, absolutely cold sober, but with adrenaline running high, I obtained a crate and, standing on it in the middle of the main thoroughfare, brought Belfast to a halt with community singing. I arrived home, soberly dressed, sat down for the evening meal when my Mother-in-law, told of how this idiot, standing on a box in his underwear and black face, holding up the traffic was conducting the crowd in a singsong. It was some time before I enlightened her who the idiot was. In the cold light of day and without the stimulus of adrenaline, I agreed with her, he was an idiot.


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.

Talk of Parties

“ANY FOOL CAN COOK ” – a certain party stopper. We were entertaining old friends to dinner, we had all eaten and drunk well, the conversation was slowing and some guests started to eulogise the meal and others felt left out if they didn’t – we all knew my wife Sophie’s excellent cooking capabilities. I said, ‘Any fool can cook’ just for something to liven the evening.

Alcohol had something to do with it. The fact I believed it to be true and was prepared to prove it, made no difference, heads turned with such speed, some were in danger of dislocation. All the women round the table were up in arms, their skills, had been denigrated, it was like the terraces on a Saturday when the ref has made a boo boo. The men were laughing, enjoying the lashing I was getting. I tried to explain my thesis which asserts that most people think cooking is so easy they don’t read the small print – the really important details – they read the ingredients and the first few lines, then, as they have seen that bit before, they think the rest is also all the same and skip it. I tried further to add that one was allowed one mistake and then success should be assured, but the hub-bub was such that no ‘lady’ was listening, they were all shouting abuse.

A few weeks later an Aunt, a reasonably intelligent woman, was in Ireland staying with us and I brought the subject up again, with the same reaction, she was very incensed, to the extent she reminded me of the Worthy Master of the Loyal Orange Lodge who had said he would ‘like to stick a deacon pole into me so far he would have to put his boot on me to pull it out’ – there was that level of vindictiveness. She insisted I take on a challenge and make a ‘knocked-up’ pie as proof of my theory. The trouble was none of us knew what a knocked-up pie was and she was too cross to tell us. In the end it transpired that the K-U pie was the sort of pork pie people eat in pubs. To me the answer was simple, use a jam jar as a former for shaping the bottom, make and cook the bottom bit, make and cook a fancy lid, fill the pie with pre-cooked meat, put on the lid and then pour in the hot jelly through a hole in the lid. The Aunt said I was a mile off, but not why. Sophie, ever helpful, even though I had insulted her with my theory, was forgiving enough to discover in her library of cook-books that I was right. I think QED would be a suitable way to close the matter for all time.

PUNCH – manipulated. I used to make wine out of Spanish grapes – 54 gallons per year, and this enabled me to make a lot of punch. In wintertime, the norm was four bowlfuls as a pipe opener for our parties. The recipe, consisted of wine, with a mixture of chopped up oranges boiled in brown sugar and sieved, brandy, Orange Curacao, and Cointreau; the last three being added after the heating process was over to ensure none of the alcohol leached away into the atmosphere. This potion was relatively innocuous in that there was no in-built hangover but it did set the standard for the night. One evening, a close friend, stood beside me and remarked I was playing tunes on my guest’s alcohol blood level. I claimed ignorance, he insisted, and I capitulated, he was right and very astute to notice. To avoid the parties getting out of hand, I replaced the three liqueurs with only essences and orange lacing the wine, and when the decibels came down to a nearly reasonable level, normal service was resumed, and only one had discovered the ploy.